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Thoughts on experimental evolution, problem-solving and how to pursue science with passion.
How did you become interested in evolutionary biology?
While I was doing my BSc Honours in Botany at Delhi University, I found genetics very interesting, because it brought back many of the things that I had liked about math and physics. There was a lot to understand, rather than just a lot to memorize. I remember being particularly impressed with how Jacob and Monod worked out the operon. I still think that’s one of the most beautiful things in genetics.
So after my BSc I applied for admission to MSc genetics at Delhi University. We had a course in population genetics the first year, taught by Professor C R Babu. He was quite simply the most amazing teacher I’ve ever had in my life. Many of the things he said in class I can still remember after almost thirty years.
Population genetics was just beautiful—it was cute, it was lovely. I really liked it. And so I decided to go for a PhD in evolution, and ended up working with Larry Mueller at Washington State University.
There was a certain amount of contingency in the choice of subject. I could as well have ended up a professor of Urdu literature or philosophy. I was reasonably clear that I wanted to be in academics. I couldn’t then and I can’t now imagine being in any other profession.
Can you describe some highlights of your current research?
The approach that we take in our lab is called experimental evolution. Instead of using an existing species to infer what might have happened in the past, you work with an organism that allows you to observe several hundred generations within a few years.
What we do is set up evolutionary problems for populations of fruit flies to surmount. For example, we took one set of populations and said that only those individuals that become adults at the fastest speed are allowed to breed for the next generation. After seventeen years and 600 generations, these populations are the fastest developing line of Drosophila melanogaster that anybody has ever seen.
Walk in Test / Interview for Six research project opening @ National Research Centre for Grapes, Pune
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- PrakashLab partner with DBT and its Star College programme.
- Students in identified colleges starting with those under ‘Star College’ scheme will receive the Foldscope.
- Students will join in Foldscope’s user-camps
Undergraduate students in all parts of the country will soon be able to take a peek at the world of microscopic organisms with a microscopethat they can take anywhere, following an initiative by the Department of Biotechnology to reach a PrakashLab’s low cost paper folding-microscope, the Foldscope (url) http://www.foldscope.com/ to them.
The ‘Foldscope’ has been developed by Dr Manu Prakash, an Indian-origin Assistant Professor at Stanford University. (URL) https://www.stanford.edu/
The letter of intent exchanged between the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the PrakashLab in the presence of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to distribute Foldscope through DBT’s star college http://www.dbtindia.nic.in/programmes/programmes-human-resource-development/star-college-scheme and other programmes was a unique demonstration of how the government is was using the social media in novel ways to stimulate citizen science.
It all started with a tweet from Secretary, Department of Biotechnology Professor K VijayRaghavan to Dr Prakash on August 12 this year.
‘Hi, can we discuss using Foldscope widely in India? I am at the Dept of Biotech, Govt of India’.
Dr Prakash responded immediately welcoming it. A skype call followed subsequently. Prime Minister’s office also responded enthusiastically to the call requesting for his support.
Rapid communication through the social media played a crucial role quickly paving the pathway for the letter of intent to spread the low technology widely through DBT’s network.
Dr Prakash is excited about engaging through DBT to extend further the Foldscope’s reach to all parts of India. He said, “Our vision is to bring a microscope into the hands of every single kid in the world”.
It is a wonderful example of how small moves to connect with the world can translate already generated knowledge to our people.
“Partnering with PrakashLab’s Foldscope is an exciting new adventure for the Department of Biotechnology. It is Citizen Science at its best. The Foldscope is torchlight in the hands of human curiosity that allows each and every one of us to explore our planet at the microscopic level, just as the telescope allows us to explore the stars. The beauty we see and the science underneath it will create a new generation of young scientists in India. We look forward to taking this wonderful partnership ahead” said Professor VijayRaghavan.
PrakashLab, a research group at Stanford University working in the field of engineering and physical biology, will source Foldscope to DBT and its constituents.
The DBT will ensure that the Foldscope is provided to students of the Star College scheme in each identified college. This will be done progressively and staged based on the availability of Foldscope.
Foldscope will be used as an educational and training tool to understand physics, chemistry, biology and instrumentation.
Foldscope is provided as a kit where the student starts by first building the actual unit from the kit; and explores curiosity driven questions surrounding the microscopic world in physics, chemistry and biology. The users build an online community and share insights, projects, questions and scientific discoveries with the community at Foldscope online platform (URL). http://www.foldscope.com/10kmicroscope-project-blog/2014/10/25/why-cant-i-just-buy-a-foldscope-already
Workshops and training programmes will be run by PrakashLab in collaboration with Indian institutions. The nascent Local Foldscope community based in India will also be involved in training.
After this initial pilot program, the collaboration with PrakashLab will be expanded to setting up of joint research for explorations of other low cost instrumentation in colleges as deemed mutually appropriate.
This was a case of matching of views that focused to create a spark. The Prime Minister has been stressing on using Indian experts abroad to bring benefits to India. PrakashLab with its vision of democratizing science develops low cost scientific tools that can scale up to match problems in global health and science education. Further connecting PrakashLabs to India can create magic through science driven by the young.
Source : DBT, India.
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