Microbial Analysis is fascinating , because of its immense potential in offering environmental benefits, as well as intriguing, for its role in propagating disease causing germs. Understanding them could unlock several puzzles.

Mukund Srinivasan, our next pathbreaker, works towards developing biotechnological tools and techniques to solve environmental issues specifically related to agricultural waste, with a focus on developing new methods and techniques to solve issues of energy and fuel.

Mukund talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his research on fascinating aspects of Vedic Microbiology related to the Germ theory, the nexus between microbes and disease.

For students, the answer to several challenges of our generation related to Biofuels, Diseases, Food & Beverages lie in Microbial Research. Read on to more …

Mukund,  tell us about your background?

Hello all, my name is S.MUKUND and I am from CHENNAI, INDIA 

I belong to a middle class family with strong traditional values. I was born and brought up in Chennai. I did my schooling from Chennai. In my initial days, I was inclined towards sports, especially in cricket in my school. My father is a government servant in the directorate of agriculture and my mother is a homemaker. As I grew near a cricket ground in Chepauk, my inclination was to become a cricketer, but I later wanted to be a part of medical services.

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I pursued my graduation in Biochemistry from D.G.Vaishnav College under Madras University. Further, I did my Master’s specialization in Microbiology from Punjab Technical University. After my post-graduation, I also finished my diploma in Bioinformatics in 2008 after putting in 4yrs of work experience. I then enrolled for my PhD in Microbiology in  2009 and completed in  2016 in University of Madras

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

Seniors and my friends were one of the key influencers in my life. They are my inspiration throughout my childhood. However, I did not have enough opportunities nor could I clear the CSIR or ICMR exams to qualify for a PhD in a very renowned university or research institute in Chennai. Algal Biotechnology was a new and emerging field those days. Further, I did some research during my off days and did many projects in Clinical Microbiology coupled with Bioinformatics. I had found that Microbiology had immense applications in varied fields such as agriculture, clinical microbiology etc.  These were some of the areas in science which are unexplored which would prove to be successful. Hence, I had thought that I could work in those areas, and finally got selected through an entrance exam and published a few papers in Clinical Microbiology as well as Algal Biology. Finally, I finished my PhD after 4yrs of research work and got awarded.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

Microorganisms were always my passion in school days. During my 12th std biology, I had seen many new bacteria which I found very interesting. I realised that this is my life, and I wanted to pursue biology. I got enrolled in a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in a college which was under the University of Madras. I got to know about Clinical Biochemistry and microorganisms which I liked a lot. I found chemical reactions a bit confusing, but developed interest in molecular biology. My knowledge of handling clinical samples was a big boost in my career. After my graduation in biochemistry, I wanted to study Clinical Microbiology. I applied for admission for a degree in Clinical Microbiology at Punjab Technical University. I got tremendous exposure into the subject and was very confident in continuing my higher studies in the same field. 

During my master’s dissertation on the “Modified Method to Prepare Manufactured Slides for Panel Testing” at  National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis, NIRT, I learnt about the utilization of herbs on TB microbes. I was utterly surprised to see the potential of these herbs against the mycobacterium tuberculosis. Out of class pursuits are equally as important as academic excellence for a holistic growth and in order to learn to resolve certain problems. Words with wise men are equal to years of experience.

I did an internship in NIRT, CHENNAI, India where I got exposure to plant DNA isolation, plasmid DNA isolation, PCR amplification, Gel electrophoresis, UV spectroscopic analysis, as well as handling clinical sample. Here, I got an opportunity to get involved in the diagnosis of microbes, samples handling etc. It is an ICMR institute. Here, I learned to work with minimal guidance and also refined my observation capabilities and research approach towards drug design, diagnosis and microbial study.

I then took up a few industrial positions in Clinical Microbiology before my PhD.

In Baba and Vignesh Diagnostics labs, I learned about the role of serology tests in diagnosis in clinical microbiology which further shaped my interest in clinical microbiology. In the initial phase, these skills help one to understand the importance of microbiology in the society.

In my next job at Ayngaran Solutions, i worked as research analyst in bioinformatics where my primary job was to assign projects for students and teach them too. Bioinformatics has become an important part of many areas of biology. It plays a role in the textual mining of biological literature and the development of biological and gene ontologies to organize and query biological data. It plays a role in the analysis of gene and protein expression and regulation. Insilico  drug designing is a new and emerging field in drug discovery, involving isolation of  microbial disease causing  protein or gene using invitro techniques, then deriving its 3D STRUCTURE  using computational techniques and finally docking using insilico drug designing  software like Autodock.

After joining PhD, I got exposed to Phycospectrum, which was a benchmark in my career when I saw the direct application of microbes for human benefit. From applications in industrial effluents to production of pigments and phytocompounds etc. which are used in drug treatment, these tiny invisible creatures dominate every sphere of life.

My first project in my PhD was on treating effluents with microorganism. Right from visiting industrial well sites for isolation of microbes to the application of the microbes in industrial plants, I enjoyed every bit of my work in Phycospectrum. I never thought these invisible microbes could actually survive in pH value of 1. Subsequently, I was also given a project based on CO2 sequestration and Biochar and have published a paper on this topic in the journal of Algal Biomass. Phycology has enormous applications in today’s context including environmental treatment, cosmetics, biochar, and many more. Microbes can be today‘s bioplastics.

I also worked in Herbal Research. In Herbal research Centre,  I worked on quality assessment in microbiology and herbal products. As research associate I worked on isolation of secondary metabolites from herbal plants (ayurvedic and siddha herbs) retrieving their 3D structure using software tools. Molecular docking studies were done with causative protein of respective disease (drug designing in Insilco lab). The work involved bioinformatics analysis of certain disease with secondary metabolites of herbs.

These experiences helped me groom myself for bigger projects and drove me towards a research career in microbial applications. I learnt new techniques and this boosted my zeal and quest to learn more. Phycospectrum nurtured me and prepared me fully to pursue further research in environmental microbiology, pigment analysis and isolation of important compounds 

How did you get your first break?

During my internship at NIRT, Chennai, i was looking for opportunities and was actively networking, in search of pioneering institutes working in the areas of clinical microbiology and drug designing. I also took help from my seniors and friends. I was keen on exploring new and emerging fields of research in clinical microbiology and bioinformatics. This phase of applying for jobs was tough. Patience and perseverance was the key. After spending 6 years, a few years in various industries like clinical labs, a bioinformatics institute and acquiring experience in various sectors of life sciences, I got the opportunity to do my PhD in Algal Biotechnology where I learnt about phycoremediation, phytochemistry  as well as a few compounds in algal biology which I utilized in the clinical side of microbiology. 

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

My first challenge was when I could not get admission in any premiere institute for PG and my doctorate degrees in Chennai. My childhood was very testing and I faced lots of hindrances in the path of pursuing higher studies. Initially I was very disappointed, but I could manage to finish my PG. I learnt about the untapped potential in the field of microbiology, especially in areas of Ayurveda, Siddha and ancient sciences which has a lot of information and research based data. 

Working in many areas of life sciences for 5 long years which include microbiology based sectors, diagnosis industries, bioinformatics, Ayurveda helped shape my career. I learnt new skills and techniques, which boosted my confidence immensely. I also had a few years of training in Sanskrit to study ancient scriptures in Ayurveda. However, working for such a long time made me stagnant and the ability to explore and work on new things had somehow taken a backseat. It was a big challenge for me to leave the field of data collection and analysis and finally pursue useful research on my own through vedic references, and through analysis with necessary samples. People around me gave me the necessary guidance and knowledge, and I was happy I could work in areas like algal biology, vedic microbiology which was not that easy.

Where do you work now? Tell us about your research

Presently, I am an entrepreneur and working to start my own firm in the field of Environmental Microbiology. My work is basically focused towards developing biotechnological tools and techniques to solve environmental issues specifically related to agricultural waste. My focus is on developing new methods and techniques to solve issues of energy and fuel. Also, my work is to develop new and environment friendly products. My analytical skills and research bent of mind, which I learnt during my training, and job helped me tremendously in starting my venture. Further, the skills of reading and exploring new things, identifying environmental issues and reading research articles helps me to work towards my dream. My typical day involves loads of reading and summarizing. Further, networking also holds the key as people from diverse fields in my network help me to get through the roadblocks. I always wanted to work independently and do my own work. Also, I love to work with microorganisms and the techniques involved in this field. My work is more fun than actual work, which I enjoy. 

Currently I am working on a project based on agricultural waste mitigation. Further, agricultural waste can be used for biofuel and bioenergy as lots of waste is generated in agriculture in this area. Farmers end up burning these agricultural waste. Hence, providing alternative solutions through my biotechnological skills is my current research.I am also working on setting up bio-digesters after which generation of bioenergy from such wastes will be my target.

How does your work benefit society? 

My work involves utilization of microbes and doing research for the development of the environment, agriculture and health sector. These Biotechnological techniques and their applications will benefit the coming generation from solving issues of environmental pollution and utilization of microorganism as biofuels. The microalgae like spirulina and chlorella are natural probiotics which act as nutrients rich foods. My current research in Chennai involves finding phytocompounds which have high antioxidant values, antimicrobial, antiviral molecules from microalgae, cyanobacteria and natural herbs. I also work on vedic microbiology where ancient texts of rishis, Indian ayurvedic and siddha scholar’s findings are referred to. These areas provide new possibilities in terms of generating opportunities in the field of clinical microbiology and algae cultivation, system biology, drug design. Besides, these microalgae can be utilized in phytoremediation process

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

I have worked on treatment of various industrial effluent during my PhD days. I have worked in a few areas like biofuels, biochar and my work involves identifying the bacteria which can be used for phycoremediation of industrial effluents. I have published 24 publications which can be seen in the link, https://scholar.google.com/citations?hl=en&user=58v0n8cAAAAJ). My study helped treat many industrial effluents and also generate income through algal industrial samples which were used as biofertilizers. My current area in vedic microbiology on Germ theory of diseases was first established by Vedic Rishis and was recorded in Vedas. Vedas are the first text in the world to record nexus between microbes and disease. Not only the Vedas, Ayurvedic texts like Charaka Samhita, Susruta Samhita, Ashtanga Hridaya and many others provide rich insight into Vedic Microbiology which is a new and exciting area to explore.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

My advice to students is to be ready to explore new avenues. Success does not come in a single day, but through years of hard work. Also, never have fear of failure because this will stop your growth. There is always a better opportunity waiting ahead. So keep working hard and keep yourself busy with a new area.

Future Plans?

My future plan is to expand my innovations by starting my own company. I further look forward to helping people around me with research in herbal technology and drug designing. I would like to open up new possibilities in terms of generating job opportunities using our ancient sciences like Vedic microbiology, ayurvedic sciences .