Dr. Divyashree C. Nageswaran has conducted research on multiple projects in Plant Breeding. At
such a young age, she has a phenomenal profile with a 6 page long resume that is a concise version
of the original. She completed her education at prestigious universities around the worldUniveristy of Cambridge in UK, Cornell University in USA, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University
in India-gaining a truly global experience in Biotechnology. With multiple publications in
prestigious journals and fellowships and awards acclaiming her talent, she currently works as a
Scientific Advisor at a firm in UK.
We were pleased to interview ma’am for our magazine. Her dynamic contributions to the field of
Biotechnology as a scientist and her journey as a student in three countries truly inspired us. Read
her interview where she talks about her projects, journey and ideologies!
1. You completed your PhD in Plant Sciences from University of Cambridge. Can you tell us
about your research project on Genetic and Epigenetic inheritance in plants?
I joined the research lab which primarily works on identifying genetic and epigenetic factors, its
underlying mechanisms that control DNA recombination or crossovers during meiosis in plants.
My PhD project was to perform a forward genetic screen using chemical mutagenesis to identify
genes that regulate meiotic recombination in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana.
Before explaining the aim of my project, I would like to explain some biology in simple words
about meiosis and recombination. Meiosis is a specialized biological process of cell division,
which is fundamentally essential for sexually reproducing organisms to propagate. Organisms vary
in chromosome number and ploidy level. For example, humans are diploid (2n) individuals with
23 pairs of chromosomes, similarly, the model plant Arabidopsis is also a diploid with 5
Meiotic recombination promotes genetic variation by reciprocal exchange of DNA producing such
novel allelic combinations of genes that influence important traits/characters, say agronomic traits
in crops. Exploiting meiotic recombination in agriculture has a great potential to speed-up crop
improvement via breeding methods.
Several genes/proteins involved in the meiotic recombination pathway have been found in model
organisms. For e.g., SPO11 endonuclease initiates DNA double stranded breaks in the pathway
across all eukaryotes, which may be repaired into crossovers (recombinant) or non-crossovers
(parental or gene conversions). Unlike SPO11, which is functionally conserved across sexually
reproducing organisms, genes/modifiers acting downstream of the meiotic recombination pathway
have species-specific roles. Hence, I realized there’s more scope to identify novel genes/modifiers
of recombination specific to Arabidopsis thaliana. Finally, this turned out to be my 4-year PhD
project. The identified gene(s) and its function in the context of recombination will soon be out online in the form of a scientific publication. Once it’s available for view, I would be able to talk
in detail about the outcomes of my research work.
2. What are your responsibilities as a scientific advisor at your current place of employment?
Soon after my PhD graduation, which was in July 2019, I officially joined the Tango Group
International (TGI) Ltd., UK as a Scientific Advisor. TGI was founded by Mr Robert Smith, an
exceptional businessman and basically a Cambridge University graduate. TGI primarily
manufactures knit-wear garments in Europe and Bangladesh in their own factories. In recent years,
TGI started investing in agriculture-based R&D in growing crops like Hemp for its natural fibre
to develop sustainable and eco-friendly clothing products. As a Plant geneticist/breeder, I provide
technical inputs to the R&D team, which is located in Romania for the selection and breeding of
high-yielding varieties in terms of its fibre biomass. In order to mobilize EU funds for all our R&D
works, I’m technically assisting TGI in attracting EU grants. TGI aims to set up an independent
research institute in Romania, Europe in the near future. I’m actively coordinating to execute this
goal in bringing/bridging potential collaborations for conducting world-class translational research
in the field of Agriculture and Life sciences.
3. You have completed double masters in plant breeding and biotechnology from Cornell
University and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. You worked on extensive research
projects during both degrees. Can you share your experiences in both places- the difference
in terms of resources, facilities and research in India and USA?
Ideally, to do a PhD, you don’t require a masters degree in countries like USA and UK. The USA
offers an integrated PhD program for a minimum period of 5 years. Despite the fact, I chose to
take up this Dual masters program at Cornell University and TNAU funded by the Ratan Tata
Foundation. This was purely my desire to experience world-class education and research at one of
the top-ranking universities in the world. I was able to spot a sea of differences between both the
countries 8 years ago in terms of education & research standards, resources, student support &
guidance, facilities, career opportunities, general work culture, ethics, gender equality & dignity
at work and many more. To elaborate a few of my experiences in the United States, I had the
choice to choose inter-disciplinary courses I wanted to study apart from the mandatory ones. The
courses offered were of exceptional standards, its assignments and test evaluations gave us the
space to enhance our lateral thinking abilities. I had the opportunity to choose the lab I wanted to
work, and I was given all the research support and guidance. I was given sufficient funds by the
university to participate in conferences and workshops relevant to our area of research. I was given
surplus lab resources and facilities to conduct my research project. I was stunned to see the
enormous Mann Library at Cornell that was exclusively dedicated to the College of Agriculture
and Life Sciences (CALS). Most importantly, I had uninterrupted access to all the scientific
journals and books throughout my studies. I was exposed to various career opportunities and learnt
the fact that research skills can be made transferable when aspiring for non-science or nonacademic careers at some point and that still requires a decent masters or a doctorate degree.
Indeed, TNAU laid the necessary foundation to step up higher in my career. Among many
academic institutions in India, TNAU until today stands one of the best in terms of teaching and
research. I hope to see significant transformations in the years to come.
4. Your expertise in various domains of biotechnology is commendable. Do you think it is
important for scientists to be all-rounders in their field of study, or mastering skills
pertaining to their specific domain is better? Basically, from a career perspective, how often
do you get to employ the skills you have mastered in your work and is this what employers
are looking for?
It’s essential to be aware and have a piece of basic knowledge on various domains of
biotechnology. In my opinion, I don’t think a scientist should be a jack of all skills, and no one can
be. It’s always important to master the skills specific to an area of your research interest. I worked
on mastering skills relevant to every research project I was involved until now. We often find our
research skills or techniques not matching to 100% of the posted job roles by the employers. We
will not be 100 % fit to any given job role, but it’s all about impressing and convincing the
employer that you are capable of handling all the assigned tasks under the job requirements. Once
you bagged the job and entered the organisation, then its vital to understand the concerned project,
update yourself with the required skills and employ your transferable skills to execute the project
5. Covid-19 has created an uproar in the world. Are you directly/indirectly working on any
projects dealing with pandemic?
I’m not currently working on any projects related to the Covid-19 pandemic. During these times,
I gathered some knowledge on Drug Discovery through in silico methods. With my close
association with few academic institutions in India, we have some plans to write projects on the
identification of potential drug molecules from plant sources, especially medicinal plants.
6. What inspired you to choose Biotechnology? Where do you see our field going post the
I was exposed to biotechnology for the very first time when I was doing my high school. I was in
awe by the magic what biotechnology does with cells in vitro. I was fascinated by the technology
used to understand the cellular machinery of living organisms. Hence, this attracted me to explore
into this field further.
Biotechnology has advanced over the years in various areas of biological sciences, especially in
tackling dreadful diseases of the past like Ebola, SARS, etc. In the present situation, biotechnology
as an application has been providing solutions on diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccine development
and drug discovery. Post the pandemic, the field of biotechnology, bioinformatics and artificial
intelligence tools will offer solutions in terms of drug discovery and development to tackle similar