Tell us about yourself!

I am Nikhil Mishra- a cell and developmental biologist currently doing a postdoc in Carl-Philipp Heisenberg’s group at the Institute of Science and Technology, Austria (ISTA). I was born and raised in Mumbai and its outskirts, and I have lived most of my life there. After obtaining a B.Sc. (Biotechnology) from the University of Mumbai, I joined the M.Sc. Research (Biology) program at the Department of Biological Sciences—Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (DBS-TIFR). During this period, I focused on the intracellular trafficking of mitochondria. This was followed by a PhD with Barbara Conradt at Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU Munich), where my doctoral research identified novel, non-apoptotic functions of the central apoptotic pathway in asymmetric cell divisions during development. Since 2020, I have been a postdoc at ISTA.

Can you tell us a bit about your research, and how you got into this field?

One biological process I got particularly excited about during my doctoral research is cell division. At the time, I was trying to understand how the mother cell division is tightly regulated to produce daughter cells of appropriate sizes that adopt the correct fates during development. As I delved more into the topic, I was intrigued by the multilayered complexity associated with single-cell divisions. I developed an inclination toward understanding other aspects of cell divisions, especially the spatiotemporal coordination of cell divisions across large distances. The Heisenberg lab incidentally shared a similar interest in exploring this area. One fascinating phenomenon that can be observed in many metazoans, including zebrafish, the primary model organism used by our group, is mitotic synchrony in early embryonic development – cell cycles across the embryo are coordinated in time. This provided me with an ideal developmental context to investigate the mechanistic underpinnings of the phenomenon and its biological relevance, which together represent the main aims of my current work.

And, what excites you the most right now?

Regarding my research, I look forward to identifying the developmental role of mitotic synchrony. This is a challenging endeavor since most ways in which the process can be perturbed cause embryonic arrest or produce pleiotropic effects. Nevertheless, I hope studies in the near future will provide insights into the need for synchrony.

In the broader context of developmental biology, I feel excited about the exploratory possibilities made available to us thanks to the advent of new technologies. Ease of omics analyses, DNA sequencing, and the generation of better force inference methods, for example, can help build a more complete model of development, one that can stretch beyond the traditional model organisms. The application of data science to systems biology is another example that can help identify and assign roles to otherwise elusive factors across disciplines, including developmental biology. So, I think what excites me the most is the potential broadening of the horizons in developmental biology.

Let’s talk a bit about the society. What made you become a member of InSDB?

The most obvious benefit of being a part of InSDB is that it provides me with a platform to connect and interact with the huge network of developmental biologists in India. The InSDB meeting held in February, my first, particularly impressed me by showing me how forthcoming and welcoming the Indian community of developmental biologists is. It has already helped me forge new collaborations with a couple of the participants at the meeting. The regular emails from InSDB bring to attention opportunities such as new programs and conferences for early career researchers, that one could otherwise easily miss.

What’s one thing that you think InSDB should really work on?

Although this might be logistically challenging, one thing that comes to mind is regarding the meeting. It was a tremendously well-organized meeting, but I wish there weren’t parallel sessions as I would have liked to attend both.

Where do you want to see the Indian devbio community in the next ten years? What are some of the changes that you would like to see?

I would like to see the Indian developmental biology community steadily grow into something even bigger, more impressive, and more collaborative than it currently is. My fondest hope is that state policies will not only render increased support to fundamental research, including that in developmental biology but also foster an environment for researchers and institutions to build on it and invent new drugs and technologies to address at least some aspects of real-life developmental issues. Of course, I realize that this is a highly improbable feat to be achieved in a duration as short as ten years. However, I believe steps in that direction could still be taken soon. Perhaps, future InSDB events could aim for greater representation of researchers from relevant technology development arenas.

Let’s wrap this up with a fun fact that people probably don’t know about you!

Most people around me know that I am a foodie. However, what they probably don’t know is that I usually start to feel sad as I approach the latter half of a good meal because it will soon be finished.

Connect with Nikhil here:

X: @NMishra_bio

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