News / 30 November 2019

Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I decided to work on bacteria for my PhD because I grew good bacteria (contaminations) in my neuronal cultures during my master’s and was fascinated by how robustly they divided.

What are your scientific interests?
I am fascinated by how single cells sense and interpret signals and how, when they are in multi-cellular environments, complex patterning can emerge.

Which unresolved question would you most like to answer?
I would love to understand the molecular basis and mechanism of how neuronal cells store information (i.e. how do our brains form memories?). But one has to be pragmatic with the available background knowledge, experimental resources etc. So, how cells process signals and coordinate with each other to produce complex life forms as we know them is my measured but ambitious question of choice.

What will you be looking for as you build your group?
Realisation and adaptability. Our work is interdisciplinary: there needs to be understanding and communication between people coming from varied academic training. For example, physicists and biologists need to be able to understand each other’s concepts, even if they are limited on how much they can actually do. They must realise the bigger potential, perspective and quality of work that comes from working together.

What are your goals for your group?
Generally, we want to do better imaging of more relevant biological samples to understand complex processes in nature.

Better imaging for us equals technologies that enable observing molecules in action with better precision and speed in a living organism. We have previously worked on cell lines, but are very keen to get on to organoids and organisms that are much more relevant.

Ultimately, we hope to lead the way in discovering principles in operation in biological organisms at various scales, with the aim of furthering fundamental knowledge and understanding of disease mechanisms.

Name one tool you can’t do without. 
There is not one, but many. Microscopes, lasers, computers, dyes, everything. But I would just say ‘coffee’ here.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
This was from Tom Kirchhausen at Harvard. After I got my first independent group leader position, I asked if he had any advice for me. He said: “You are your lab’s best postdoc.”
More about Senthil’s research.

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