Please tell us about yourself

Dr. Aashish Ranjan, scientist from National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR) shares his feelings on winning an award during early stages of his career. Dr. Aashish Ranjan was very passionate and quick in sharing his research interests and future goals.

Take a ride through the interview below.

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Please tell us about your passion and future goals. How did you end up in an unconventional, offbeat and unique career such as this?

My passion for science was developed through the motivation of my father, who worked in Indian Railways, and the patience of my mother, who is a homemaker. Besides giving us the freedom to explore and decide on our career path, my parents always promoted the innovativeness and creativity during the early days that is well reflected in taking up scientific research as my professional career.

After completing my school education in Darbhanga, a small town in Bihar, I pursued BSc in Agriculture from Banaras Hindu University and MSc in Plant Biotechnology from Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi. After that I got selected for an International Graduate Fellowship to pursue PhD at University of Cologne, Germany.

My interest in Agriculture and plant biology, that developed during BSc and MSc, got further strengthened during PhD in the lab of Prof Ute Hoecker where I studied light signal transduction in plants. As a graduate student, I developed specific interest to minute details of plant developmental processes. My quest for developmental biology deepened during the Postdoctoral Research in the lab of Prof. Neelima Sinha at University of California, Davis where I skilled myself in genomics approaches to address fascinating questions related to plant development.

I retuned back to India and joined as a staff scientist at National Institute of Plant Genome Research, New Delhi in April 2015. As a group leader, I am trying to use genetic and genomic approaches to study the developmental features of crop plants that could be used for sustainable food production in the context of global climate change. I am interested in both basic as well as applied biology i.e. understanding the genetic and molecular mechanisms regulating crop developmental features, in particular leaf features, and applying the acquired knowledge towards the yield enhancement of crop plants.

Please tell us about your current research

My major research interests revolve around investigating fascinating details of plant developmental processes using genetic, molecular biology, genomics, and bioinformatics approaches.

Plants are continuously exposed to multiple environmental factors, and adjust their growth and development according to prevailing environmental conditions. One of my major research interests focuses on crosstalk of environmental signals, light and temperature, to regulate crop developmental features. Using natural genetic variation and genomics approaches, we want to identify master regulators/transcription factors mediating developmental changes in response to changing environment. These regulators will, then, be genetically tested for their potential to develop crop plants resilient to environmental changes.

In addition, I am also interested in optimizing leaf developmental features, in particular anatomical features, to increase the crop photosynthetic performance. Natural genetic variation for the photosynthesis among the cultivated and wild species of crop plants are being explored, and its association with leaf developmental features and underlying genetic basis will be investigated. Increasing the photosynthetic performance of the crop plants, and having plants perform well under the adverse environmental conditions shall be a major step towards feeding the increasing world population in the backdrop of global climate change.

What was your personal feeling on winning the IYBA-2015

I was elated to win the IYBA-2015 as it always feels great when a scientist’s idea gets appreciated. It, further, gave me a sense of achievement as I received the award within a year of my return to India. I needed some grant to jump start my career, and IYBA was timely as it provides a reasonable research grant for three years. Moreover, IYBA provides an excellent platform to young scientists to explore the innovative ideas that might be difficult otherwise. IYBA also gives me a sense of responsibility to live up to the expectations conferred on me through this.

Any particular experience of your career wish to share with our readers

In my experience from my short career so far, I feel changing places (in particular from PhD to postdoc) and willingness to learn new scientific approaches during the early training phase of a scientific career are immensely helpful in long term. I did PhD from Germany, and then moved to a lab at UC Davis with completely different research directions for the postdoc with a bit of hesitation. But soon I realized that it was a great move as I not only learnt different ways to address a scientific problem but also got to know more people and developed my own scientific network.

I was trained in genetics and molecular biology as a graduate student without any expertise in genomics and bioinformatics. During postdoc, I took some effort to train myself in genomics and bioinformatics approaches to address plant developmental question, particularly with next generation sequencing data. The learning curve was steep and did involve frustrations, but it was worth as it enabled me to think more broadly about my scientific interests. Needless to say that it also helped me securing a faculty job.