Author: Deepshikha Mishra

Science needs heroes and a wonderful team

Science needs a cocktail of humor, simplicity and bunch of exciting results to take it down the gut by non-scientific audience. Science needs heroes and some wonderful storytellers and for that it needs a team. Good science at every level is a team effort of excellent researchers, technicians, funding agencies and many more. Nowadays PI recruits researchers on the basis of their varied skills and make a team of skilled molecular biologists, system biologists, bio-informaticians etc to publish a good piece of work.

Scientific Policy makers and the advisory board people in government help out in making effective plans and schemes to popularize science and further to benefit society in its way. As a recent example we all are experiencing an impact on our scientific life by the partial shutdown of government funded facilities for a period. However PubMed service is open and is being maintained with minimal staff. A lapse in government funding resulted in a state of panic in the life of many scientists and labs running across the globe with the funding from USA.gov.

The importance of science communicators and story tellers is often under recognized. The heavy experimental, theoretical and Astrophysics geeky researchers became so cool after an American sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady. The story writers of the scientific comedy show excellently created lead characters of the show, roommates Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper both science geeks and socially awkward friends. This show became a huge hit, with its many seasons launched and popularized science and research in an interesting way among non scientific audiences.

Image credit: www.chicagonerds.com

Image credit: www.chicagonerds.com

As a cancer researcher working in a lab with research area primarily in cervical cancer, I routinely come across experiments going on HeLa cell lines. Apart from HeLa many others cell lines of Leukemia and other cancers are also widely used in our lab. Few days ago I came across news regarding HeLa cell line genome and the ongoing debate on its access. A huge success was made after a series of long discussions between the Henrietta Lacks family and National Institutes of Health (NIH), USA with the help of Rebecca Skloot (story writer), academic leaders, genetic counselor, medical-geneticists and many more. A mutually acceptable agreement was made that will keep Ms. Lacks’ family privacy as well will help in advancement of future medical research. Henrietta Lacks will always be remembered for her immense contribution to science.

Image credit: http://henriettalacksfoundation.org/

Image credit: http://henriettalacksfoundation.org/


The worth of cell lines as model to study cancer is beyond words. It has been a years since HeLa cells were in news for; its origin, ethics behind its origin and many more but again after years it hit the news for a different reason giving rise to a new series of debate. This time sequenced HeLa cell line genome gave rise to a new set of controversy starting new discussion and debate among researchers and policy makers on the extent of access to a data seeking a balance between importance of large HeLa genome data and researcher’s access to it and further the family’s privacy involved. If the sequenced HeLa cell genome becomes public and fully accessible it may create a problem for the Lacks family because it also contains some personal information about Ms. Lacks’ family, like their risks of other diseases etc which may become public. But if the data is blocked and not published it will be big loss for thousands of researchers working in this field and further a loss for science in all. This incidence in itself highlighted the major role of story teller who helped the family in understanding the importance of the data for scientific community. The genetic counselors and scientists who explained to the family the wealth of data from the sequenced genome for future therapeutics leads.
Image credit: paranerds.com

Image credit: paranerds.com

In all Science needs heroes (spider man created curiosity in kids regarding genetic mutation), academicians, scientist, researchers, story tellers, counselors and many more (not to forget funding agencies) to excel and work for society betterment and novel findings.

Deepshikha Mishra is a Ph.D student in Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India.

Image credit: Deepshikha

Image credit: Deepshikha

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Changing scenario of Indian science: Emerging opportunities in Life sciences

The history of Indian science and technology is very rich and old starting from ancient Indus Valley Civilization to today Higgs boson era. Day by day opportunities are growing, touching new horizons and bringing new laurels to India. The whole scenario has changed extensively from the ancient days. Eminent Indian scientists in the field of physics, chemistry, mathematics and biology like Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose, Satyendra Nath Bose, Meghnad Saha, Sir C. V. Raman, Homi Bhabha, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Vikram Sarabhai, Har Gobind Khorana and many more set up gold standards for the whole world. Women scientists from old days like EKJ Ammal, B vijayalakshmi, Kamal Ranadive to present era like Shubhada Chiplunkar and Shubha Tole always made their presence felt by their work at International science platform. Indian science has grown with a wonderful speed leaving baby steps to giant leaps. With the latest advancement in technology, funding, facilities giving rise to new opportunities. Funding agencies like DST, DBT, ICMR, IACR and Welcome trust etc. have launched various grants and schemes for school goers, women and scientists at any stage of career.

Budding young scientists
Junior and senior research fellowships by CSIR, DBT, ICMR, ICAR etc. given to students selected by national written exam are first step in the process of admission to a PhD Research Program. ICMR gives postdoctoral Research Fellowship to PhD/ MD/MS holders to foster high quality research in different type of diseases and varied areas of basic science at different ICMR Institutes. Every year various awards are given to exceptional young scientists through highly competitive selection procedure by DBT and other funding agencies. Program like ‘Innovative Young Biotechnologist Award’ (IYBA) for pursuing higher research in cutting edge areas of biotechnology are very competitive. Various public and private organizations provide ample opportunities in the form of startup grants, training, awards etc. to young minds who want to make an exciting and innovative research career in frontier areas. Awards like DAE Research Awards for Young Scientists-BARC, Start-Up Research Grant (Young Scientists, CSIR Young Scientists Awards Scheme for Young Scientists & Technologist (SYST) etc. are given every year. http://dst.gov.in/about_us/young-scientist.html. Welcome trust and DBT jointly has also launched some wonderful fellowships for Biomedical Researchers for post doctoral and higher research categorized as early, intermediate and senior research fellowship. http://www.wellcomedbt.org/fellowships.html. MargdarshiFellowship is one more name launched with a vision “to replicate global standards of scientific excellence, and minimize disparities in scientific and administrative capacity, among research institutes and universities across India” http://www.wellcomedbt.org/margdarshi.html. Assured Opportunity for Research Careers (AORC) under INSPIRE targeted for age group 22-27 is aimed for attracting talented young students for doctoral work.

Fellowships for women
Various fellowship programs for women working in the area of basic and applied research and society based programs have been launched. Programs like WOS-A, WOS-B and WOS-C schemes have been launched for women who had a break in career due to family or social commitment and want to make a comeback which will help in their research career and apart from that skill enhancement and increasing chances of self employment. Opportunities in the newer area of scientific communication, intellectual property rights etc are also enormous and more can be found at http://www.dst.gov.in/scientific-programme/women-scientists.html. A scheme for career advancement and bring back women to research after break DBT has also launched Bio-CARe program (Biotechnology Career Advancement and Reorientation Programme for Women Scientists) http://dbtindia.nic.in/index.asp. National Young Woman Bioscientists Award and National Senior Woman Bioscientists Award are also given every year by DBT to appreciate the talented women scientists.

International collaboration and partnership
DBT launched joint Indo-US Research Career Transition Award Program (Khorana-Nirenberg Scholars) to establish collaborative biomedical research and training. DST invites proposals time to time under various International Bilateral & Multilateral Programs for building collaborations with Indo-French, Indo-Finish, Indo-Israel, Indo-Taiwan etc. whereas ICMR also invites proposals for International Indo-US and Indo-German partnership and workshops. Apart from above mention programs applications are invited throughout the year for international and national travel grants.

Welcome back
To overcome brain drain and attract Indian highly skilled researchers working abroad in different institutions in the area of biotechnology DBT has launched “Ramalingaswami Re-entry Fellowship”, an initiative to bring back talented brain and providing them a niche to pursue research and development in India.

Fellowship for science outreach
A nice lead has been taken in field of science outreach and communication to society by starting “Rajat Jayanti Science Communicator Fellowship” and this program is meant for young people who can communicate Science to society. http://www.dst.gov.in/whats_new/whats_new13/RJ_Science-Communicator-Fellowship.pdf. In this row recently, a new program has been launched by DST for motivating bright school students to study science at higher level. This “Motivational program” has been launched for inspiring school children towards science and education. http://www.dst.gov.in/whats_new/whats_new13/Motivational-prg-2013.pdf. Apart from that, other program like ‘INSPIRE’ whose main objective is to “communicate to the youth of the country the excitements of creative pursuit of science, attract talent to the study of science at an early age and thus build the required critical human resource pool for strengthening and expanding the Science & Technology system and R&D base” has launched the schemes for Early Attraction of Talents for Science (SEATS) and Scholarship for Higher Education (SHE).
http://www.dst.gov.in/scientific-programme/inspire/ser-inspire-awards.html. Around 2 lakh school children every year get benefited by this.

Building Industry- academia links
To fill the void between Industries and academia a wonderful initiative has been taken by DST in the form of Prime minister’s fellowship for doctoral research. A joint initiative taken by Science & Engineering Research Board (SERB) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) which will open new opportunities’ in industrial research and development http://www.cii.in/jointfellowshipscheme.
Apart from the above mentioned fellowship schemes India offers many other fellowships, exchange program, travel grant and skill enhancement training program for Indian and foreign students in the area of life sciences.

References
http://dst.gov.in/
http://icmr.nic.in/
http://dbtindia.nic.in/index.asp
http://www.wellcomedbt.org/index.html
http://www.ias.ac.in/womeninscience/liladaug.html

Abbreviations
DST- Department of Science and Technology
CSIR- Council of Scientific & Industrial Research
ICMR- Indian council of Medical research
DBT- Department of Biotechnology

Interaction with Dr. Harald Zur Hausen

Interaction with Dr. Harald Zur Hausen

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