Biology is simple and complex at the same time. As a passionate practitioner of life science research, I always strive to target the simple questions around my research interest. The scope of life science research is vast- it involves study of unicellular and multicellular organisms, study of different diseases and also study of interactions between organisms and environment. At Ahmedabad University, I study the unicellular parasitic protozoa Leishmania donovani which is the causative agent of visceral leishmaniasis (Kala azar) worldwide. Kala azar is a deadly disease causing significant morbidity and mortality. The causative protozoa Leishmania donovani gets into our bloodstream through the bite of a sandfly (the vector of the disease) and goes inside the macrophages. These parasites cause eventual demise of the macrophages and colonize in the spleen. They eventually may cause death of the person affected if not treated in time. Among the different courses I teach, I also offer an elective course on Human Protozoan Parasites. In this course, I try to familiarize the young minds with the different protozoan parasites which cause some of the devastating diseases in the world.
What does the term ‘parasite’ mean? In simplistic terms, any organism which invades any other organism, steals nutrition, takes refuge and cause a negative impact on the organism it has invaded may be termed as a parasite. My research interest spans around understanding one such parasite, Leishmania donovani in detail. I specifically am interested in unravelling the DNA repair and cell death pathways of this unicellular protozoan parasite so that we can have a better repertoire of drug targets to treat the deadly disease caused by Leishmania. Now, the obvious question is – why DNA repair and cell death pathways?
Any organism, be it unicellular or multicellular, is constantly exposed to DNA damaging threat from the environment. Thus, all organisms should die due to the damage of the DNA from the environment. However, that does not occur due to the existence of DNA repair pathways. These pathways are constantly at work to eliminate any DNA damaging threat. On the other hand, the cell death pathways are also an important component in the biology of an organism. These pathways get activated when the organism is destined to die. When we talk about the parasite Leishmania, it is a foe about which we know very little. Probably that is the reason why this unicellular protozoan parasite causes significant morbidity and mortality worldwide. So, if we are able to know more about the organism, we will be better equipped to fight the war against these deadly parasites. Though these are harmful to the human race, I must mention here that throughout my research career, I have mostly tried to understand these parasites and now I feel that something is missing from my day to day life if I don’t visualize them under microscope. It’s because visualizing these fantastic unicellular protozoan parasites and seeing them swim around in the field of view under the microscope has become an obvious event in my regular life (I don’t think I can do without that!). Yes, as already mentioned, they are the enemies of human race but there is some uniqueness about these parasites which have allowed them to be able to infect humans throughout decades. They are incredibly smart and that is why it is essential to understand them in detail. I realize my passion for research at Ahmedabad University and also feel honoured to interact with some brilliant inquisitive minds. There is no limit for learning and I must say that I still love to learn in this fantastic academic environment. I conclude with the saying of Mahatma Gandhi – “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
Fig.1 legend: Leishmania promastigotes visualized at 40X magnification on an inverted microscope
Fig.2 legend: Leishmania promastigotes visualized at 100X magnification on a confocal microscope