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My postdoctorate research experience - Dr Piyali S Basu, tuberculosis researcher

"The research culture we have at Surrey is supportive, sociable and inspiring which makes a staggering difference to my perspective, outlook and motivation."

"I received my BSc (Hons) in Biotechnology at the University of Surrey in 2010, which included a 12-month Professional Training placement at Lonza, UK. I then worked in industry for over two years, after which I decided to pursue a PhD at Brunel University. I have now been working as a postdoctorate researcher at Surrey for two years.

My project aims to directly interrogate the intracellular metabolism of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) using a combined experimental and computational modelling strategy to test the hypothesis that Mtb relies on distinct metabolic pathways when replicating inside the host. Our studies demonstrate the metabolic plasticity of central carbon metabolism in M. tuberculosis, and emphasise the success of targeting metabolism for tuberculosis (TB) drug therapy.

In 2015, TB killed more people than any other single infectious disease. The 100-year-old vaccine we currently have for the disease is outdated and largely ineffective, offering only moderate protection to infants and children, and even less protection to teens and adults. Untreatable strains which are multi-drug resistant to TB have increasingly emerged. After attending several TB conferences and talking with other scientists in the field, I came to the realisation that we haven’t even began to scratch the surface of the highly complex nature of research to understand TB. It’s an ongoing battle, and this is the challenge I am passionate about.

I enjoy working at the lab bench, performing experiments, especially when an experiment results in new or unexpected data. The research I have been undertaking for the past two years has been really exciting, I have generated a body of unexpected data which has continued to challenge my thinking and further motivate me in trying to understand how this fits in with what we already know about TB. I also enjoy the collaborative nature of research; by working together with other scientists, we can use our combined expertise to solve problems. I love the opportunities to present and network at national and international conferences. I was selected to present my work at the Acid Fast Club Summer Meeting in Leicester, the EMBO Tuberculosis conference in Paris and the ASM Tuberculosis conference in New York.

 

As I work in TB research, the fact that Surrey is one of the very few universities in the UK to have a license for BSL-3 facilities means I can perform directly relevant experiments in the Mtb strain, and not only be restricted to non-pathogenic versions of the strain.


To help my career development, I have attended some workshops by University of Surrey’s Researcher Development Programme (RDP). I applied for and was selected for the Early Career Researcher (ECR) Writing Retreat which was a collaborative event organised between University of Surrey and Imperial College, held in in Westminster, London. It was good to meet and network with other ECRs from different fields.

During my research here at Surrey, I have collaborated with analytical chemists, structural chemists, and enzymologists from University of Surrey, bacterial lipid experts at the University of Birmingham, and crystallographers from University of Irvine, California. Through this, I have learned that networking and building collaborative relationships is essential, and is a more constructive way to help answer the research question by drawing on different expertise.

The research culture we have here is supportive, sociable and inspiring which makes a staggering difference to my perspective, outlook and motivation.

 

I am also very fortunate to have had a very supportive principal investigator during my time here at Surrey, who has encouraged my career development and increased my confidence significantly to enable me to become a confident and competent scientist.

The research I have undertaken generated unexpected and very interesting results in how the metabolic node works together in different conditions, but also showed how the roles of key individual enzymes are highly underrated, and potentially they play a more diverse and essential role than originally predicted. This node sits at a critical metabolic cross road in central carbon metabolism, and through numerous experiments with respect to each enzyme, we have shown this node is crucial for the survival of Mtb in the host.

I hope to contribute and publish novel and high impact research to the TB scientific community, and convey the complexity of Mtb metabolism."

 

Discover our research in the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.

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