Please tell us about yourself

I am a microbiologist working in the field of applied microbiology and biotechnology. I finished my graduation and post-graduation from Bangalore University and did my PhD from CSIR- National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (CSIR-NEERI), Nagpur. I joined CSIR-CFTRI in the year 2009 and have been actively working since then in the area of pre- and pro-biotics.  My team also works on developing “biosensors” for detection of foodborne pathogens and microbial toxins. I am a course coordinator and faculty for Basic Microbiology course conducted for M. Sc Food Technology students under Academy of CSIR (AcSIR).  I am also a coordinator for “Faculty Training and Student Motivation towards Science” program which is a unique initiative of CSIR to motivate young brilliant minds to take up science as a career.

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http://www.biostandups.com/face-of-the-month/#1504714674357-83ebd37a-9dc5

BS: Were you passionate about science as a child?

PB: Yes, I was. My father was in the Indian Forest Service and was very passionate about science and in particular plants and their ecosystem. His passion kind of rubbed off on me and I was very intrigued about the many facets of science when I was a child.

BS: Tell us your inspiration behind liking an offbeat, unconventional and unusual area such as microbiology and furthering your career as microbiology expert?

PB: It was in my VIII standard that we had to perform an experiment and view a sample under the microscope. We students were so fascinatingly looking at tiny particles moving under the microscope which our teacher said were bacterial cells. I also remember her telling us “Their (microbes) work is not as small as they are!!” This was when I thought, it will be so interesting to study these creatures which we cannot see through our naked eyes but yet they affect us in so many different ways……

BS: Your name is listed as “Global Microbiology Experts” at Omicsonline. What do you think about it?

PB: Well! I didn’t know about it till now… I am very passionate about my subject and yes it makes me really happy to know that I am listed as an expert on my subject.

BS: Have you ever received any awards or fellowships for your excellence?

PB: I received the AU-CBT PhD research Scholar excellence award from Biotech Research Society of India (BRSI) in the year 2007. This was for my doctoral work on “Biotechnological approaches for bioremediation of hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH)”. The award carried a cash prize and a citation. Apart from this, I also received the CSIR-NEERI best research paper award 2007-2008 on NEERI foundation day. I was awarded the DST fast-track project for Young Scientists in 2010. I have also received the CSIR- senior research fellowship and Research Associateship to pursue my research in microbiology and biotechnology.

BS: Among all your prestigious awards and recognitions which was the most memorable to you?

PB: I think the AU-CBT award for best PhD scholar would be my most memorable one since I received it for my research at a very young age of 27 years.

BS: How pre-biotics differ from probiotics?

PB: “Pro-biotics” by World Health Organization (WHO) are defined as live microorganisms which when consumed in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host. Our gut is colonized by a number of microorganisms (trillions of them) some of which are beneficial while a few others are harmful. Some are also opportunists. A healthy human has the right balance of these organisms with the beneficial ones far outnumbering the harmful ones, this is called the state of “eubiosis”. When this balance in the gut is disturbed (dysbiosis), it leads to several negative implications on health. “Pro-biotics” is an intervention to increase the number of a beneficial flora of the gut by consuming them which can then manifest into a balanced gut environment leading to several health benefits. Fermented foods are rich sources of probiotics. Many products are available in the market which claims to contain probiotics.

“Pre-biotics” is nothing but “Food for pro-biotics”. Prebiotics are those dietary components which when consumed can selectively increase the growth of beneficial microflora of the colon. Oligosaccharides (fructooligosaccharide, galactooligosaccharide, xylooligosaccharide etc.) are examples of prebiotics which can selectively increase the number of beneficial microbes such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus in the gut. Prebiotic containing products are also available in the market. Asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, legumes, cereal grains etc. are some naturally rich sources of prebiotics.

BS: How important to include probiotics in our daily life?

PB: Research today has unequivocally proven that the gut microbiota plays an extremely important role in health. A new understanding is emerging that all disease phenotypes including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, cancer and several others are actually a manifestation of complex interactions between the diet, gut microbiota, drug intake, the environment and the human host. There is accumulating evidence that different diseases are characterized by significant changes in the microbiota of the gut and the metabolic functions they perform. Having probiotics daily can ensure that we have a healthy gut which can build our immunity and strongly prevent the onset of diseases.

BS: What is the current advancement in the field of probiotics?

PB: Probiotic research today is being focused to establish a link between gut microbiota and human diseases.  One of the most recent research suggests that there is a functional link between the bacteria in the gut and Parkinson’s disease, one of the most debilitating brain disorders.  Scientists from the United States and Europe have shown that changing the bacteria in the gut of mice affected the manifestation of Parkinson’s symptoms, even including bacteria taken from the gut of humans suffering from the disease. They suggest that the best target for treatment may be the gut, rather than the brain. The future of probiotics is, therefore, to develop “next generation” probiotics, more sophisticated than the sort of probiotics found on the shelves of health food stores today. There may be a time in future when doctors actually prescribe “disease targeted probiotic pills” rather than “chemical drugs” to treat a particular pathogenesis.

BS: What is your most fascinating area of research other than microbiology? if any?

PB: I also work on “biosensors”… It’s my dream to develop a simple, easy to use a kit or maybe a dip-stick as slim as a pen to detect disease-causing pathogens in food. This kit should be so handy that anyone, practically anyone can use it anytime to test whether his or her food is safe to eat!. My research team is working in this direction and we hope to deliver it someday…….

BS: As a scientist what do you like most about teaching and research?

PB: My vote would go for “research”…..That’s what I like doing the most….

BS: Tell us any craziest thing you ever have done in your career/life?

PB:  Not one I can think of right now.

BS: How do you manage work and personal life?

PB: I am extremely blessed to have a very supportive family which makes it easier to manage both work and personal life. I have been brought up by parents who are extremely open-minded and always gave us (we are two sisters) all the freedom in the world to pursue our dreams. I have been lucky to get an equally supportive husband who has motivated and encouraged me throughout. He is from the same field, a fellow scientist is an added advantage. I feel I have been able to strike a good balance between work and personal life because of all the support I get from home.

BS: World Health Organization announced on October 2nd 2017 that Dr. Soumya Swaminathan as Deputy Director-General for Programmes. How do you feel about it?

PB: Proud and extremely inspiring!….When a woman reaches the top, she inspires a hundred others to do their best and scale greater heights…..Dr. Swaminathan and her work is truly inspirational and will definitely motivate another woman in the field of science to excel and reach the top.

BS: Women are not performing enough or equal to men; hence they fail to reach top positions. Do you agree? If not why?

PB: I wouldn’t agree with it a bit. Women are equally good and sometimes even better than men in their work fields. They fail to reach the top because the ratio of women to men in almost all the fields is low. Some who do reach a certain place is pulled down by the largely male-dominated society we live-in. So it’s not because of the lack of merit but the lack of opportunities that make women not reach the top so easily.

BS: Do you support women empowerment in science and research? What is your opinion on Women in science?

PB: I support women empowerment not only in science and research but in all other fields of life. I feel its high time women are given their due in society. More and more women are taking up science today and that’s a very good sign of a progressive society.

BS:  Do you think women empowerment in Science and Technology is underpinned in India?

PB: To some extent yes….Now there are a lot of opportunities for women to come back to research after a career break. Women are given 5 years extra period against age limits when applying for positions, research funding, awards, fellowships etc. This has been done keeping in mind that a woman takes a break when she starts her family which is also an essential part of her life.

BS: We have very few women pioneers in science and technology. What is the reason behind it?

PB: Yes, the number of women pioneers in science and technology are less. I feel the reason could be lack of opportunities and also mindset of a male-dominated society in not allowing women to excel by increasing the number of hurdles for her.

BS:  As a woman, have you ever faced intolerance situations against gender diversity in your career?

PB: Frankly and fortunately no. As mentioned earlier, I am blessed with a very supportive family. Also, my research guide, mentors, and all other peers have been tremendously supportive and encouraging. Never felt being treated differently for being a WOMAN. I hope that one day many women in our country would also say a “no” like me.

BS: Do you have any suggestions to raise the bar for women scientists?

PB: My only suggestion would be “Our limitation is only in the mind”……So break loose and follow your dreams……

BS:  Share your opinion about our new start-up biostandups.com?

PB: Biostandups is doing an incredible job of creating awareness on women empowerment in science. Kudos to you. I wish your team all the very best and may you get success in your noble endeavor.