You Inspire Us- Dr Sujan Mamidi
It was our pleasure to interview Dr. Sujan Mamidi and learn about his work, research, ideologies and future plans. Not only did he emphasize on the importance of contributing to science, but also weaved a path for aspirants by providing an opportunity to learn under his mentorship. From his extensive genomics research to his highly valuable published work in Nature series, Dr. Mamidi explains his Biotech journey. He is also excited about connecting with colleges in India to conduct guest lectures as an effort to promote Biotech and Bioinformatics. Watch his interview here, and you can connect with us for information on how to get in touch with him!
1. Currently you’re working as a senior scientist at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. Tell us something about your responsibilities and projects there.
I work on the computational aspects of the genomics as a computational biologist. I work on lots and lots of next generation sequencing data. I work on the quantitative genomics and evolutionary aspects… and a bit of programming. The ultimate goal is to identify markers and genes that are responsible for that trait so that they can be used for marker selection and hybrid development. The other aspect of my work is population genomics- to understand climatic adaptations of the samples. On the evolutionary side, I look for domestication, origination, migration, genetic selection to help breeders achieve better hybrids. In addition, I do collaborate with many institutions of plant genomics across the world to help and guide them.
2. You completed your PhD from North Dakota State University and worked as a research scientist there as well. What projects did you work on during this time?
Right after my undergrad in Agriculture, I flew to US to pursue my master. After one year of master, I moved on to integrated PhD, post which I worked in the same lab and same university (total 12 years). One of my major projects was the whole genome assembly of common bean, which was published in Nature journal with me as the lead author. The idea was understanding the common bean population and identifying regions that are used for domestication and adaptations. Since common bean is a major crop in Central and South American region, where poverty prevails- so for United States that’s an important factor to be studied. Other than this, I worked on various aspects of genomics, identifying markers for many biotic and abiotic traits, understanding the demographics of common bean. It was a 6-7 years work to get the whole genome. Other than this I did a lot of teaching and training to students and faculty on various aspects of genomics. At that time, I was the only bioinformatician, so I worked with 15 different crops and helped 20-25 students with their PhD projects.
3. You have quite some experience as a mentor and professor in Genomics. What do you expect from students when they enter a Genomics/Biotech program for courses like masters and PhD?
Well the first thing when you’re in an advance degree is you should have an open mind, be ready to learn and be able to construct alternate hypothesis. Secondly, you should spend a lot of time to keep up with the advancement of science. Thirdly, you should learn across fields and diversify your knowledge base. Lastly, I recommend reading at least one paper a day from a different field than yours.
Try to find a few role models in your research area, look up their work, keep update with their new paper. Never chase for getting papers published to build up your resume, be ready to discover or learn something, consequently publications will follow.
4. You are also an academic editor of PLOS ONE and have over 45 publications- many in Nature journals as well. Technology has definitely brought the scientific community together by providing open access to research taking place all over the world. However, do you think such a vast database of research online can be overwhelming for a scientist? Is there any modification that you would recommend to this entire process?
Definitely there is a lot of research out there, but if you stay away from parasitic journals, you are ruling out 70-80% of the papers. Look for papers that have good citations, good impact journals. If you cannot access the paper, write to the author saying you’re interested in their research.
5. Your career and education spans multiple years of quite intense research in genomics and bioinfo. What are the changes you have witnessed and experienced first-hand in research- when you began vs current times? In terms of pace, resources, technology, discipline and awareness.
The scale and interpretation of sequencing has changed a lot. During my first few years, it would take me a week to generate 5000 bp of DNA sequence and cost me $1000. But now we have machines producing 3.1 trillion bp a day, with only $6 for a million bases. Previously we would chase for one or two genes for a particular purpose, but now we’re looking at all the genes at once. There is a lot of data being generated every day, and we are using sophisticated servers. Genomics as a field is expanding very rapidly; awareness has been increased a lot particularly due to covid-19 in the last 6 months. I’m expecting all the governments and organizations to improve resources for this field in terms of grants and transparency. I believe proportional grants should be allocated to small institutions to increase the number of people contributing to biotechnology.
6. Do you believe many Biotech enthusiasts today (even those at PhD level) somewhere lack a strong foundation and miss out on fully comprehending the basics of important concepts? What are your suggestions to work on this knowledge gap? How can you help professionals revisit and students learn these concepts?
I have noticed in India, that students apart from those in premier institutions pursue masters or PhD just for the sake of promotions or getting a paper out. If that’s the case, we can be of limited help, however otherwise you don’t necessarily need the basics.
Even though basics can help us understand the topic well, but not necessarily to innovate- what you need is an open mind (like in the case of novel covid-19 virus). Keeping updated with the new technologies is very important.
7. Your current goal is to promote life sciences research in India. What motivates you to do this? What are your plans?
Personally, I would like to return to India and I am working on some alternative plans for that. I work at a premier institute here, our institute has produced 20-30% of the whole genome sequencing of humans, and my current lab and team generated more than 50% of the plant genomics in the world. The amount of data we generate is one of the highest in the world. I see in my field there is a large gap in terms of the amount of data being generated and the interested individuals in genomics. Limited resources are a big reason surely, but limited knowledge is another important reason. It’s the new generation of people who can adapt to these new developments. My plan is to be a mentor for such interested candidates. It is completely non-monetary. So, if interested individuals want to learn more on let’s say a particular aspect of genomics, I could be a mentor for you. I also plan to do a bunch of YouTube videos to interpret data and understand genomics concepts.
8. Lastly, our magazine intends to bridge the gap between students and professionals- to make biotechnology accessible to everyone. What do you think about this initiative?
When I opened the website and started reading your magazine, I was seriously amazed by your initiative. When I read papers from students particularly, the amount of time they took to review that topic is not that easy. So having that really helps them in their career in terms of their writing skills, advancement of science and for the community as a whole.