Nishant Chakravorty: the Genetic Alphabet

By Selina Haefeli

Occupation: PhD candidate
Location Brisbane, Queensland
Institution: Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

From the moment Nishant picked up his first book on biology he was mesmerised learning about the invisible processes that take place in different organs of the human body. Now he’s working on his PhD in the field of molecular genetics; a world he describes as a biological alphabet of molecules and genes.

What got you into science?

High school biology lessons helped me in understanding the basic mechanisms of biological processes and they also made me inquisitive to learn about what governs and dictates the visible changes.

What did you do when you finished school?

After finishing school, I studied medicine (MBBS) and started delving deeper into my quest to learn about the functional changes that occur in disease conditions. This pursuit introduced me to the realm of molecular genetics and I realised that the integration of the various disciplines of science has enabled us to make inroads into this “invisible” arena.

Can you explain a bit about the realm of molecular genetics?

Imagine a world where the English language has only four letters, instead of all its twenty-six, and we had to communicate with each other. You’ll be surprised to know that such a world actually exists—the world of “molecular genetics”, where all words are formed using a combination of only four letters: A, C, G and T.

What does your research involve?

My research studies how microRNAs interact with genes and influence the cross-talk between genes that guides the process of bone cell maturation. I mainly focus on studying the interaction of bone cells with implant surfaces made out of micro-roughened titanium.

And what exactly are microRNAs?

Genes interact and cross-talk with each other to ultimately convey useful information that leads to the functioning of various biological processes. However, just as small prefixes and suffices may completely change the meaning of words, certain small “words” (nucleic acid complexes known as microRNAs) can bind to the bigger “words” (genes) and change their meaning (cause inhibited expression of genes).

How does your research apply to day-to-day life?

Decrypting the molecular codes that guide biological processes, like bone formation, will enable us to unfold some of the key secrets guiding molecular functioning of living systems. We specifically intend to try and use the knowledge we are gaining from the project to design models that may be used to improve stability of orthopedic and dental implants and also to improve bone formation in compromised conditions.

What’s the most challenging thing about your work?

My project deals in the invisible world of molecular biology, where the majority of the machinery is inconspicuous even to the most powerful microscopes. This is what makes it most intriguing and challenging. As we cannot visualise the objects directly, we have to rely on indirect evidences and this is usually based on “cause-effect” models. To make the invisible structures indirectly visible, we often use techniques like fluorescent tagging and track their acquired ability to fluoresce.

What sorts of things do you like doing to unwind?

I love reading books, watching movies and scientific documentaries. Spare time also gives me opportunity to introspect and consolidate on my thoughts.

What breakthroughs do you predict will occur in your field over the next 10 years?

The last millennium saw some of the biggest breakthroughs in the field of physics and chemistry. However, I believe biology’s contribution to the success of science is still due. Scientists made quite a few inroads into the most challenging aspects of medical science and we are close to finding cures to some of the most troublesome diseases. Simple and effective gene manipulation strategies to treat genetic disorders will soon become a reality. Molecular biology techniques are also bringing us closer to finding vaccines for deadly diseases like AIDS and we might even be close to finding a cure as well … who knows!