Dr. Chetana Sachidanandan is a senior scientist at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR–IGIB). She works on neurodevelopmental disorders using zebrafish disease models. Chetana is a 2024-2025 board member at InSDB.

Hello, Chetana. Let’s start from the beginning- how and why did you choose developmental biology as your field?

I do not have a straightforward answer for why I chose this field. I had not been exposed to developmental biology in my master’s. I did my PhD in stem cells and regeneration, during which I got interested in development. L.S. Shashidhara was our devbio teacher for our coursework. It was quite an amazing class. This was also the same year the paper on zebrafish mutants was published, and a whole development issue was dedicated to this finding. I found this issue in our library at the institute, and it was quite interesting. I know every developmental biologist says this, but the idea that you can create an entire organism from a cell with such complex coordination is magical, and I guess, that’s what made me travel this path.

It has been almost 50 years since InSDB was formed. When did you first become a part of the society, and how do you think the community has grown in India over the years?

In my second or third year as a PhD student, I attended my first InSDB meeting. It was a really small meeting. I presented a poster of my work, even though I did not have a lot of data to show back then. Shubha Tole visited my poster and I told her that I was having trouble with RNA in-situ work. She immediately told me to come to her lab at TIFR to learn how to do it. I went to her lab and spent a couple of weeks there. She has been a mentor since then. There was always this feeling of camaraderie among InSDB members. I have been to other meetings as well, but those meetings do not give me this feeling of being with friends. This InSDB meeting that I first attended had a session chaired by Veronica Rodriguez, and the session had no timer. Instead, there was a remote control car on the stage. If you overspill on the time allotted, the car will start running on the stage and distract you. So, you had to stick to your timing. These informal, fun rituals helped the students blend in and relax. Usually, when people get older, things become more rigid. But it hasn’t happened in this community yet. The atmosphere still remains the same at InSDB meetings. It feels like a comfortable place to be.

Apart from InSDB meetings, we are also eager to build ways through which we can take developmental biology to the public. How do you think InSDB can enhance its outreach and engagement with the broader scientific community and the public? 

We know that there’s a lot of information on the internet now. However, to get on the internet and search for something, you need to know what to look for. Many people do not know how to go about this. 

Last year, we conducted a zebrafish workshop at IGIB. We had master’s students come in for a week-long hands-on workshop. We conducted simple experiments like showing the embryos develop over time and treating the embryos with chemical compounds to see what happens. The excitement and the feeling of wonder that I saw in those students was enough proof that there is still a huge need for more such initiatives where the students get to see science in action. I attended another workshop at BHU where they had multiple model organisms. Dr. Ghaskadbi had bought hydra, Swetha Saran had bought dictiostelium, and I got some zebrafish. This was again, very exciting for students. There are still a lot of students in many parts of the country who need this. I’m not just talking about remote places, even in cities, there are very few resources and infrastructure in many colleges. Taking things from the lab to the universities is something that still needs to be done. Just opening up the world of devbio is enough. Rest, they can find out from the internet.

I know that you actively participate in outreach, and IGIB has a strong outreach team. Do you have any insights that will help us when we carry out such events?

Two things to keep in mind: using easily available organisms to teach devbio, and having easy-to-implement protocols. A chick egg can be easily procured and you can crack open the shell, incubate it, let the embryo develop, and show this to the children. These are easy to implement. There are also foldoscopes these days, which can be used for visualization. The programs should be developed such that these experiments can be implemented by non-specialists. I am not a specialist in handling chicks, but I should be able to handle these experiments. 

Adding another point here: sometimes, you might wonder about the value of starting yet another outreach program when so many already exist. But, every time you do something or start something new, you are targeting a different set of people and a few more people end up getting exposed to the science. And there are so many kids who need this exposure. 

You’ve been part of the board for a while now. As a board member, is there anything you’d want to initiate from InSDB?

The things we talked about are pretty much it.  It would also be nice to have smaller meetings in the future. 

Finally, why would someone be a member of InSDB?

I signed up for membership when I attended my first meeting as a student because it was a fun community and I felt like I wanted to belong here. One would want to sign up because you feel excited to be a part of the group and you feel connected to the society. And, it is when you attend the InSDB meetings that you capture that feeling of wanting to be a part of this. The InSDB website is also a good start to creating that feeling of a vibrant community. Having faces of people on the website, and interviews really helps people to feel engaged.

Know more about her work here. You can also connect with her through the website.

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