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MOLECULAR BIOPHYSICS LABORATORY

About Mahalakshmi's Research Interests
 
  • I study the folding, function, and regulation of the human mitochondrial metabolite flux protein VDAC, the core translocase protein Tom40, and the mitochondrial outer membrane chaperone Sam50 as well as its bacterial homolog BamA. Interaction of these mitochondrial outer membrane proteins with alpha-synuclein, A-beta, and tau, are believed to trigger mitochondrial dysfunction and the onset of neurodegeneration; yet, the molecular factors regulating the early events of synuclein/A-beta/tau misimport, mito-ER stress response regulation, calcium homeostasis, and ROS suppression, are not known. I use biophysical tools, spectroscopic techniques, and single molecule ensemble studies, to characterize the mOMP interactome at the molecular level. The overarching goal of my research is to develop feasible translational strategies targeted at neurodegeneration, using membrane proteins.

The following are the thrust areas of the research in my laboratory:
(i) We correlate the folding of the three human mOMPs VDAC, TOM, SAM, with their function and regulation at the molecular level using in vitro methods in membranes and in vivo cell biology.

(ii) We elicit molecular details of TOM-assisted VDAC import, SAM-assisted VDAC assembly, and consequences of mOMP misfolding in the cell, with correlation to neuronal health.

(iii) We determine how the interactome of mOMPs with the synucleins, A-beta, and tau, governs neuronal survival, and the onset of neurodegeneration.

(iv) We focus on identifying molecular elements of these mOMPs that regulate ROS production and calcium homeostasis, and the underlying correlation to mito-ER homeostasis and ER-stress.

(v) We relate the function of mitochondrial Sam50 with its bacterial counterpart BamA, towards developing next-generation peptidotherapeutics for notorious Gram-negative pathogens.

 
Awards, Fellowships, and Recognitions
 
  • 2024 : Elected as Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, India.
  • 2023 : S. Ramachandran National Bioscience Award for Career Development, Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India.
  • 2023 : Featured as "Young Vidushi" in "Vigyan Vidushi - 75 Women Trailblazers of Science", published by Vigyan Prasar, Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India.
  • 2022 : Awarded the Scientific and Useful Profound Research Advancement (SUPRA) grant from the Science and Engineering Research Board, Govt. of India.
  • 2022 : Featured in the DST Coffee Table Book "75 under 50 Scientists Shaping Today's India", a compendium published by Vigyan Prasar.
  • 2021 : Elected as Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, India (NASI).
  • 2021 : Featured in the October 2021 issue of Biophysical Society Newsletter.
  • 2021 : Nominated and invited to attend the 4th World Laureates Forum as a young scientist.
  • 2020 : DBT - Wellcome Trust India Alliance Senior Fellowship.
  • 2020 : SwarnaJayanti Fellowship, Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India.
  • 2020 : Young Researcher Award, Lady Tata Memorial Trust.
  • 2020 : 2020 Travel Award, 64th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society, San Diego, CA (USA). Feb 15-19.
  • 2020 : Featured in "Future of Biochemistry: The Asia-Pacific Issue", American Chemical Society.
  • 2019 : Session Chair, Gordon Research Conference on Membrane Protein Folding, Boston (USA). July 07-12.
  • 2019 : Session Chair, 2019 American Peptide Symposium (APS), Monterey, CA (USA). June 22-27.
  • 2019 : Research Highlight titled "Governing the Mitochondrial Governator" in "Embracing the Future", Annual Report (2018-2019) of Wellcome Trust - DBT India Alliance.
  • 2019 : Young Scientist Award, Indian Peptide Society.
  • 2019 : International Travel Support to participate in the Gordon Research Conference on Membrane Protein Folding from the Science and Engineering Research Board of the Department of Science and Technology (declined).
  • 2019 : Travel Grant to participate in the Gordon Research Conference on Membrane Protein Folding from the Department of Biotechnology CTEP (Conference, Travel, Exhibition and Popular Lectures).
  • 2018 : Chasing the Governator. Research highlight in "Decade of Discovery" published by Nature India for Wellcome - DBT India.
  • 2018 : Selected for the Exceptional Fellows Fund by the Wellcome Trust - DBT India Alliance.
  • 2018 : Featured on "The Life of Science", a photoessay titled "Coming back to the fold" under Women in Science.
  • 2017 : SERB Women Excellence Award (2017-2020).
  • 2017 : Session Chair, Gordon Research Conference on Membrane Protein Folding, Boston (USA). June 04-09.
  • 2017 : Research Highlight titled "Molecular Origin of Human VDAC-2 Structure, Function and Regulation" in "Connecting the Dots", Annual Report (2015-2017) of Wellcome Trust - DBT India Alliance.
  • 2015 : Wellcome Trust - DBT India Alliance Intermediate Fellowship (2015-2020).
  • 2015 : International Travel Support to participate in the Gordon Research Conference on Membrane Protein Folding from the Science and Engineering Research Board of the Department of Science and Technology.
  • 2015 : Travel Grant to participate in the Gordon Research Conference on Membrane Protein Folding from the Department of Biotechnology CTEP (Conference, Travel, Exhibition and Popular Lectures) (declined).
  • 2014 : NASI Young Scientist Platinum Jubilee Award, The National Academy of Sciences.
  • 2014 : Associate, Indian Academy of Sciences (2014-2017).
  • 2014 : INSA Medal for Young Scientists, Indian National Science Academy.
  • 2014 : Best poster presentation in TWAS-ROCASA Regional Conference of Young Scientists (Cash award of $1500).
  • 2014 : Session Chair, The Second International Symposium on Protein folding and Dynamics, Bangalore (India). Nov 5-7.
  • 2010 : Ramalingaswami Fellowship from the Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India (2010-2015).
  • 2009 : Innovative Young Biotechnologist Award (IYBA) from the Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India (2010-2015).
  • 2008 : Scholarship to attend the U.S. - Canada Winter School on Biomolecular Solid-State NMR.
  • 2005 : Senior Research Fellowship during graduate school from Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, India (2005-2006).
  • 2003 : Junior Research Fellowship during graduate school from Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, India (2003-2005).
  • 2000 : Gold Medal for achieving University First rank in Bachelor of Science.
  • 1997 : District Third in class XII examinations, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu.
Education
 
  • 2000. B. Sc. (Biochemistry voc. Biotechnology) from Bharathiar University, Coimbatore.
  • 2003. M. S. (Biological Sciences) from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
  • 2006. Ph. D. from Molecular Biophysics Unit, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
  • 2006 - 2008. Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Apoptosis and Cell Death Research, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (previously Burnham Institute for Medical Research), La Jolla, CA, U.S.A.
  • 2008 - 2009. Postdoctoral Fellow in the Division of Molecular Immunology, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, La Jolla, CA, U.S.A.
Positions Held
 
  • June 2021 - present. Professor, Biological Sciences, IISER Bhopal.
  • September 2014 - June 2021. Associate Professor, Biological Sciences, IISER Bhopal.
  • June 2009 - August 2014. Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences, IISER Bhopal.
 
 
 
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