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News Category: B4 Program

2017 SAI Symposium: Life Sciences Panel [VIDEO]

The fascinating life sciences panel at the 2017 Symposium featured:

Parvathi Sreekumar: a bioscientist based at the Department of Crop Physiology, University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore. She is a member of the inaugural cohort of SAI’s Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings (B4) Program and is spending a year at Harvard as a postdoctoral fellow.

Muhammad H. Zaman: Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor of Biomedical Engineering and International Health at Boston University. He is using quantitative tools to understand tumor metastasis, developing robust technologies for high-value healthcare problems in the developing world, particularly in the area of maternal and child health and working on health and innovation policy issues in developing nations.

Conor WalshJohn L. Loeb Associate Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the John A. Paulson Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

Venki Murthy: Professor of Molecular & Cellular Biology and Director of Undergraduate Studies in Neurobiology at Harvard University.

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Inaugural Harvard B4 Fellowship Opens New Doors for Postdocs

Left to Right: Venki Murthy, Ramya Purkanti, Gayatri Ramakrishnan, Parvathi Sreekumar, and Praveen Anand

One year ago when Parvathi Sreekumar earned her PhD in Crop Physiology at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, India, she never would have guessed that today she’d be halfway around the world, learning computational biology and bioinformatics to study bacteria in Philippe Cluzel’s lab. Yet here she is in Cambridge, along with three other research fellows from Bangalore who were awarded the inaugural Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings (B4) Fellowship, co-sponsored by the South Asia Institute (SAI) at Harvard University and the Institute for Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB) in Bangalore. The four fellows, selected from over 52 applicants, earned their PhDs in different fields from different institutes in India, but all now share the unique experience of spending 11 months pursuing research in a completely new direction at Harvard. “Being part of this fellowship is broadening my research exposure and equipping me with new skills that I can go home and implement in India. I’m grateful that students from diverse fields are being given an opportunity like this,” says Sreekumar.

Each B4 fellow is matched with a lab at Harvard that focuses on a research topic within the biosciences, including Systems and Synthetic Biology, Neuroscience, Genomics and Bioinformatics, Soft Robotics, and Biomedical Engineering. For Ramya Purkanti, who studied evolutionary cell biology in yeast for her PhD, Michael Desai’s lab was a perfect fit. “Michael’s lab is also studying evolution using yeast, but they’re asking very different questions,” she says. “My PhD investigated the development of organelles within eukaryotic cells, and now I’m researching the development of sexual reproduction – why did sex evolve when it’s so costly to find mates, and only half of an organism’s DNA gets passed down? The way this lab asks scientific questions, designs and sets up experiments, mines the data, and interprets results is very sophisticated, and I’m really enjoying learning it.”

Aside from the challenging task of getting up to speed on their host labs’ research while simultaneously moving their own projects forward, the B4 program has no official requirement of the fellows. That freedom to explore an environment that’s as brimming with academic activity as Harvard’s has proven to be almost as valuable as the time the fellows spend in lab. “The fact that I get to work on what I’m interested in without extra limitations or requirements sounded too good to be true,” says Praveen Anand, a fellow working in Sean Eddy’s lab. “This fellowship gives me a perfect opportunity to network and learn directly from people who are already well renowned in their fields. I have also started to attend the LS50 course to brush up on my statistics, and found it amazing.” Purkanti agrees: “Something that really struck me was a lecture I attended about a new photosynthetic bacterium, because the lecturer presented her science in jargon-free English and put it in the global context, so that everyone in the audience could understand. Now I want to learn how to speak about my own science in a similarly fluid, ‘normal’ English, too.”

The B4 Fellowship is the brainchild of MCB professor Venkatesh Murthy and Harvard Business School professor Tarun Khanna (who is also the Director of the Harvard South Asia Institute). It represents just one part of the larger B4 program, whose overall goal is to connect research institutions in Boston and Bangalore to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the biosciences, with the key point being to “Invest In People” to grow the sector for societal benefits. All four B4 fellows agree that it is definitely living up to its stated purpose. “The opportunity to nurture and shape our scientific temperament at one of the best institutes in the world is unparalleled,” says Gayatri Ramakrishnan, who is working with Martha Bulyk at Harvard Medical School. “This program is of immense help and provides a much-needed boost to graduates like us who are in the early stages of their academic careers.” “It was really good at this stage to push myself and learn new things,” adds Sreekumar. “I might not have had the impetus to try something new if I had stayed at my home institution.” Her host advisor, Philippe Cluzel, says, “I see the B4 program as a great opportunity to bring together people with different scientific backgrounds and ask them to work on a problem they could not have tackled otherwise. It has been a really great experience to have Parvathi among us, and I am sure we will keep in touch once she is back in India.”

The one thing the fellows would change about the program (aside from the static in Boston’s dry winter air that makes their hair stand on end)? Make it longer. “I wish I had arrived here earlier, maybe as an undergraduate or as an intern, as I would have had the privilege to explore, experiment and learn as much as possible,” laments Ramakrishnan. “It would be very useful to have at least two years to gain this experience and contribute even more positively to the growth of research and technology back in India,” adds Anand. “We aspire to expand the duration as well as the number of fellows in the coming years”, says Murthy. “We hope that these fellows will take their experiences back to India and influence the system in small, but significant ways – even though the actual period of time they are here is quite brief.”

The B4 Fellowship complements the B4 Young Scientist Development Course, which took place in Bangalore in January, 2017. Read about that program here.

The B4 program is supported by the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology and the Government of Karnataka’s Department of Information Technology & Biotechnology and Science and Technology.


by Lindsay Brownell for the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University

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Building Budding Brain Biologists: Harvard’s inaugural B4 Program in India

In the gleaming academic fortress of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bangalore, India, MCB professor Venkatesh Murthy and Advisor/Preceptor Laura Magnotti spent two weeks over winter break giving 25 engineering and computer science students a crash course in something completely different: neuroscience. The Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginning (B4) Program, which is administered by the Harvard South Asia Institute, hand-selected the participants from about 150 undergraduate and graduate student applicants from all over India. It is supported by the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology and the Government of Karnataka’s Department of Information Technology & Biotechnology. Through a series of five daily sessions consisting of three lectures, one presentation by a local scientist, and one hands-on demo that included activities from dissecting a goat brain to recording action potentials from a cricket leg, the students gained a comprehensive knowledge of the field of neuroscience, basic concepts, and how to apply them. “Teaching this short winter course to smart and enthusiastic students without much of a neuroscience background was gratifying because we could see in real time how excited and awestruck they became about the brain,” says Murthy, director of the B4 program.

Why teach neuroscience to students who are committed to degrees in other fields? “The educational system in India is very narrow. There are no general education requirements; once a student enters university, they pretty much only take courses in their declared field of study,” says Magnotti. Murthy himself was educated in that system at the Indian Institutes of Technology: “I only learned about biology as a research endeavor when I came to the US for grad school, and then I ended up making a career out of it. If India’s brightest students don’t know that some of the questions and ideas they come up with can be applied to solve problems in other fields, they might never do that.” The three NCBS PhD students who were teaching assistants for the B4 course – Siddharth Jayakumar, Sahil Moza, and Mostafizur Rahman –  agree. “I honestly wish I had access to such a course when I was a curious undergraduate student in India thinking about the brain,” says Moza.

Neuroscience is a logical gateway for bridging the gap between engineering and biology. “In the B4 program we describe neurons as electronic circuits, and axons as cables,” explains Magnotti, “and lots of theories from engineering and electronics are easily applicable to neurobiology. These are real applications of the concepts the students have already been learning, so they don’t have to start completely over in order to explore the new field of biology.”

The B4 program built upon the previous success of the Resonance program, which ran a similar course in 2013 in conjunction with professors from MIT. One student from Resonance ended up going to graduate school in Germany to study biology, and many of the B4 students are reconsidering what they want to study as a result of the program. “They all seemed to really love the experience, and a lot of them asked how they could come to graduate school in the US or worked on setting up summer internships with biology professors in India,” says Magnotti. “Even if they don’t end up switching their majors or careers, we think the broadening of their perspectives and awareness of other fields of science is valuable and definitely worth investing in.” “I think one of the most unique opportunities for the participants was meeting and interacting with faculty from diverse backgrounds,” adds Jayakumar, one of the TAs from Bangalore. “It gave them, as undergraduates, a glimpse of what research in modern-day neuroscience is like.”

Another part of the B4 program involves bringing Indian postdocs to the US for a year to gain exposure to new ideas that they can then bring back to India to further disseminate the benefits of a broader education. “Although a year is really short for carrying out a comprehensive project, my hope is it will still allow bright postdocs from India to gain direct exposure to the way life science research is thought about and conducted here, and to make connections that will benefit them when they return to populate the research ecosystem in India,” says Murthy.

by Lindsay Brownell for the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University

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SAI hosts knowledge exchange workshop on neuroscience

EQ4C2831On January 7, SAI, in partnership with the Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB), hosted a Knowledge Exchange Platform on neuroscience for students in Bangalore to interact with different players in the science ecosystem.

The students were part of the Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginning (B4) Young Scientist Development Course on neuroscience, a 2-week immersion course run by SAI and IBAB to to introduce Indian students to the excitement of brain science.

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Meet our B4 Fellows

As part of SAI’s Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings (B4) Program, five postdoctoral fellows from India will spend a year at Harvard working in a science lab under the mentorship of a Harvard faculty member. The fellows have range of specialties, including plant physiology, computational biology, evolutionary cell biology, and molecular genetics.

The program is supported by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India and Department of Information Technology & Biotechnology and Science and Technology, Govternment of Karnataka.


Meet the fellows:

GayatriGayatri Ramakrishnan

Home institution: Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
Field/specialization: PhD in Computational Biology
Harvard faculty mentor: Prof. Martha Bulyk (Harvard Medical School)
An overview of the research you will conduct at Harvard: I have begun to work on structural basis of DNA-binding specificity of transcription factors. In simple terms, the study aims to understand and analyze: a) rules that aid interactions between DNA and certain biomolecules known as transcription factors (that “activate” a gene); and b) rules (mutations) that could potentially damage such interactions. The inferences from such a study are valuable in directing experiments on genetic diseases in human and cancer research.
What are you most excited about for your year at Harvard? Exchanging ideas and having healthy discussions with pioneers and experts in science.


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Reversing Brain Drain: City has Best Critical Mass of Neuroscientists

Reversing Brain Drain: City has Best Critical Mass of Neuroscientists

BENGALURU: Harvard professor Venkatesh N. Murthy, one of the foremost neuroscientists in the world, was amazed by the state of-the-art laboratory at Bengaluru’s National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS). The place seemed better than his own lab at Harvard.

“My lab is pretty well settled but my colleague Sumantra ‘Shona’ Chattarji’s laboratory is fantastic,” he says. For Murthy , that only reflects the position Bengaluru has taken in neuroscience or brain research. “Bengaluru has the best critical mass of neuroscientists in India,” he says.

Murthy is in the city for a two-week workshop to introduce neuroscience to engineering students. This is under the Boston-Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings (B4) programme funded by the Centre and Karnataka.

“In honest and direct terms, the research being done is world class. The qualifier is that it’s still very small. NCBS has maybe 5-8 people and the Indian Institute of Science has 10-15 people who are card-carrying neuroscientists,” he says.

Other institutions such as Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad and the National Brain Research Centre at Manesar are “somehow not as prominent,” the 43-year-old says.Even a premier institute like Nimhans has no identity outside India because “clinical people are not doing basic research, unlike in the US where graduates aspire to be both doctors and scientists.”

Tamil Nadu-born Murthy studied mechanical engineering at IIT Madras. At Harvard since 1999, his research focusses on understanding odour-guided behaviour in terrestrial animals.Indian engineering students are, he says, asking the right questions unlike in his time. “I wonder if it has to with the startup culture. Scientifically though, I’m not sure if they are as mature as US undergraduates, who are deliberately exposed to a variety of subjects requiring critical analysis. And biology here is still a lot of memorisation and less of quantitative skills.”

Brain research in India, and Bengaluru in particular, received a fillip with Infosys (BSE 1.60%) cofounder Kris Gopalakrishnan’s Rs 225-crore grant for a brain research centre at IISc. Murthy, however, is cynical of private funding. “It’s good that money is coming in for research. But, for instance, a multi-billionaire might fund research into autism because he has an autistic child or something. However, what we need is much basic research to understand the brain and how it is wired,” he says.

Murthy believes India can bring back scientists who were part of brain-drain to the West, by making research attractive.”I’m one who drained,” he laughs, adding: “It rarely works when you try to prevent people from leaving. Now, it seems to be the right time to come back because, I’m told it’s not a huge problem to get grants and resources. Even if it’s not as extravagant as NCBS, it can be attractive enough to do good science.”

Written by Bharath Joshi for The Economic Times (source)
Updated: Jan 12, 2017, 11.54 AM IST

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Engineers, techies delve into the mysteries of brain

The following article, published in The Times of India covers the Harvard South Asia Institute Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginning Program (B4), which aims to aims to build a scientific research corridor and will engage scientists from India and Harvard through exchange programs: 1) Science and Technology Fellowships at Harvard and other peer institutions in the Boston area. 2) A two-week Young Scientists Development Course in Bangalore. The program builds upon SAI’s Resonance Course on Neuroscience in 2013.


72By Sreemoyee Chatterjee

BANGALORE – Imagine a human brain controlling the movement of a prosthetic arm just like a real one or a robot with motor skills exactly similar to that of humans or a machine with 100% vision accuracy like that of humans. A bunch of 25 young students of technology is now learning the multidisciplinary dimensions of neuroscience at a two weeklong workshop in the city.

The Harvard South Asia Institute workshop seeks to introduce Indian undergraduates and postgraduates to the excitement of brain science. Interestingly, all participants are either from electrical, mechanical, chemical or software engineering backgrounds or are students of bioscience and are driven by an eagerness to know all about the brain.

Venki N Murthy, professor of molecular and cellular biology and director of undergraduate studies in neurobiology at Harvard University, and Laura Magnotti, advisor, neurobiology concentration at Harvard University, are conducting the workshop at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bengaluru.

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Engineers Can Look Beyond Pure Engineering

Engineers Can Look Beyond Pure Engineering

25 students in two-week long residential programme being conducted in Bengaluru

Bengaluru: Harvard University’s South Asia Institute (SAI), along with the Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology in Bengaluru, has launched a Young Scientist Development Course for 25 engineering students selected from top institutions across the country.

Over the last week, select students were introduced to neurosciences and how they could apply their engineering skills in the field. They were trained by both professors from Harvard University as well as those from science institutes in India.

The two-week long residential programme is being conducted at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bengaluru. It is part of B4 (Boston-Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings) and will conclude on January 11.

The aim of the programme is to help students adopt a multidisciplinary approach to their education and chart a career beyond pure engineering.

“The world might not need too many software engineers in the next few years. Most of what software engineers do today, such as coding, will be automated,” said Raghav Singh, R&D, IBM Cognitive Computing. He was a panellist at one of the workshops on Saturday.

But the likelihood of engineers becoming redundant is far from remote possibility. There are many untapped avenues that engineering students can get into. Neuroscience is one of them. To help students explore their options, a knowledge exchange platform was organised for students to connect with government representatives, industry executives and scientists.

The two-week residential course is sponsored by the Department of Biotechnology and the Karnataka Biotech and IT Services (KBITS).

Originally published by a staff reporter for The Hindu (source)
January 07, 2017 21:35 IST

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Call for Applications: Young Scientists Development Course in India

Call for Applications_B4Young Scientists Development Course in India
December 29, 2016 – January 11, 2017

Bangalore, India

This course introduces Indian students to the exciting gamut of brain science. Highly talented students from across India will be chosen to participate in a two-week immersion workshop that will allow them to explore some of the most exciting research topics in neuroscience.

Click here to read more and apply.


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