Biophysicist in Profile


Arunima Chaudhuri grew up in Kolkata, India, an intellectual “City of Joy,” once home to scientists such as Jagadish Chandra Bose, Satyendra Nath Bose, Megnath Saha, Prafulla Chandra Ray and Nobel prize winner C.V. Raman. As a young student, there was no shortage of stories of the far-reaching achievements of these scientists to inspire Chaudhuri to pursue research in an era when it was neither encouraged nor particularly lucrative.

Following her secondary education, Chaudhuri was selected to attend Presidency College in Kolkata, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree with honors in human physiology. A historical institution founded in 1817 and formerly known as Hindu College, Presidency College is one of the oldest educational institutions of western education in South Asia. Through her three years of study, Chaudhuri attended lectures on diverse topics ranging from music to sports and always looked forward to meeting alumni at school events, where she heard about many research findings in different fields of science.

After her studies in Kolkata were complete, Chaudhuri moved to the Department of Biotechnology at the University of Goa. “I was fortunate to receive a scholarship for a two year master’s course in marine biotechnology,” she said. “It gave me the chance to venture out of my home town, so I happily packed my bags and ventured to the land of sandy and rocky beaches, blue sea, and green palm and cashew trees.” Convenient for her marine studies, Chaudhuri has cherished memories of going to the local beaches to collect samples for practical classes and project work. “Seeing high and low tides bringing a wealth of flora and fauna was always a feast to my eyes,” she reminisced.

During her master course in Goa, she was selected for a summer training program at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad, India. The stay in Hyderabad left an impression—not only was it Chaudhuri’s first brush with biophysics, working with Amitabha “Amit” Chattopadhyay, but “the state of the art research facilities, the aesthetic décor, and the diversity of my fellow summer students, were overwhelming,” she said. The two months she spent in Chattopadhyay’s laboratory motivated Chaudhuri to study biophysics. She worked on a project addressing the effect of an immediate precursor of cholesterol biosynthesis on the functioning of the Serotonin1A receptor, and learned about fluorescence polarization, measuring the same for diphenyl hexatriene (DPH), incorporated in bovine hippocampal membranes, among other techniques. “Amit’s laboratory used a cornucopia of probes to address various daunting questions in membrane biology, and I was fascinated to work with them,” Chaudhuri recalled. “The two months passed quickly, and I returned to Goa to finish my master’s course with the desire to come back [to Hyderabad] as a PhD student to work with these probes again.” After completing her master’s program, Chaudhuri passed the national eligibility examination for a research fellowship in India. Impressed by her enthusiasm and energy, Chattopadhyay invited her to join his lab as a PhD student.

“Arunima has worked on a number of important projects in my laboratory,” said Chattopadhyay. “Her major work is focused on the interaction of protein (a-lactalbumin) and peptides (CXCR1 N-terminal peptide; gramicidin; pHLIP) with cell and model membranes, and she has applied a variety of techniques toward this goal.”

Currently, Chaudhuri is a senior graduate student in Chattopadhyay’s laboratory, exploring the basis of interaction of soluble proteins with membranes in partially disordered states, whose relevance in a large number of cellular processes is beginning to be understood. In this role, she works with bovine alpha-lactalbumin (BLA), known to exist in a milieu of partially disordered state called molten globule both in membrane-bound and soluble conditions, as a model protein to address this issue. “I use a wide variety of steady state and time resolved fluorescence techniques such as wavelength-selective fluorescence, dual ratiometric fluorescence, depth measurement of fluorophore in membranes utilizing parallax method to gather insight into the organization and dynamics of both the interacting partners,” she explained. “I am also addressing the molecular interaction of BLA with membranes, in terms of its residue specificity, utilizing in silico methods like docking and simulation. An interesting aspect of my research is devoted toward understanding the role of oleic acid in enabling the BLA-oleic complex to ferry through the cell membrane as opposed to the protein alone.”

Through her work, Chaudhuri has worked in collaboration with several other scientists, including G. Krishnamoorthy, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, India; Samrat Mukhopadhyay, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali, India; and Durba Sengupta, National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, India. With Sengupta, Chaudhuri is working on understanding the binding of fatty acids to proteins and trying to reconcile experimental work with simulation data. Through long conversations about this work and the field as a whole, Sengupta has appreciated Chaudhuri as “one of the best collaborators you could wish for.” Besides digging up information from the oldest to the newest research articles to help move their work forward, “She is an incredible information source, able to connect two seemingly unrelated facts,” said Sengupta, “as she is always willing to put in the hard work, do that extra experiment, and go out of her way to help you out!”

At a 2011 Fluorescence meeting (FCS workshop) at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) in New Delhi, India, Chaudhuri impressed Mukhopadhyay with the explanation of her work during the poster session. Since then, she has become the major driving force in the collaboration between the Mukhopadhyay and Chattopadhyay labs. “Arunima came to my lab to carry out the sitedirected mutagenesis of a protein that she has been working on, and carried out some fabulous experiments on protein-lipid interactions using the stopped-flow mixing device,” explained Mukhopadhyay. “She demonstrated an admirable ability to quickly learn new techniques and apply them to her own research problems.”

Looking toward the future, she plans to test the insights obtained from model membranes and in silico approaches to cellular systems. Chaudhuri also hopes to remain in academics, pursuing a research and teaching career. “I have worked with Amit as a teaching assistant in the biomembranes course offered at CCMB, and have thoroughly enjoyed interactive sessions with students,” she said. “Down the road, I also hope to delve into the lipid-specificity governing the functioning of diverse membrane proteins on a spatio-temporal scale during various cellular functions.”

A BPS International Travel Award recipient in 2012, Chaudhuri had the opportunity to attend the Society’s 57th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia and participate in the active biophysics community she joined in 2010. “I avidly read the newsletter and follow the blog online quite regularly to stay abreast of what is happening with meetings, conferences, and workshops related to my interests,” she said. “Reading the profiles of many scientists in the BPS Newsletter has inspired me immensely and I feel honored to be featured in one of them.”

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