Molecular traffic and behaviour of biomolecules

Akshi Deshwal’s interview with Bio Patrika hosting “Vigyaan Patrika,” a series of author interviews. Akshi is currently pursuing Ph.D at IISER Mohali in the bio-organic field under the supervision of Dr. Subhabrata Maiti. She studies biomolecules such as liposomes and enzymes and their behavior in macromolecularly crowded media or in compartmentalized system. She finds environment sustainability applications very fascinating and plans on pursuing it further in her career.

Apart from research, Akshi also finds Yoga and Music compassionating. She has recently been certified as a Yoga Volunteer by the Ministry of AYUSH. She also runs a music channel on YouTube. Other than this, she also has a keen interest in lawn tennis and serves in NGO in her free time.

She believes that dreams do come true if you are determined enough and wants to make her family and nation feel proud of her.

Here, Akshi talks about her first author article ‘Macromolecular Crowding Effect on the Activity of Liposome-Bound Alkaline Phosphatase: A Paradoxical Inhibitory Action’ published in Langmuir.

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How would you explain your paper’s key results to the non-scientific community?

It is very well known that cytoplasm of a cell is extremely crowded containing approximately, 20-30 % of large biomolecules such as proteins, nucleic acids etc. This crowding causes restriction even to flow of water molecules. These biomacromolecules makes the cellular environment completely different from the buffer.

In more simple words, Let’s say you want to travel from Delhi to Chandigarh and there are lot of vehicles out there on the road, so, if you are on a bicycle, you will easily pass but if you are driving a truck, it becomes more difficult for you to go through the road and you will get late too but inside cells, things occur timely, It’s beautiful.

So, road is the cell and all vehicles are macromolecules and you, as a driver, are a transport system inside the cell.

That’s how the crowding has put a lot of hurdles in studying the cellular environment and play a crucial role in various phenomena like protein folding, aggregation, enzymatic activities etc. When you study all these phenomena inside buffer (Buffer you can consider a plain road with fewer vehicles) it is easier to study them.

In our study, we have used the crowding agents like PEG 9000, 4000, 400 and different weight percent of FICOLL 400 to study the catalytic activity of AP (Alkaline Phosphatase) bound vesicles and AP bound microbeads (of various diameter) in absence and in presence of inhibitors like inorganic phosphate and phenylalanine that is not much explored till date.

What we have found is, AP bound vesicles show higher activity as compared to AP bound microbeads that’s because of deformable nature of vesicles in comparison to beads which are hard spheres. Also, the inhibitors have shown entirely different inhibition behavior from which they have been supposed to.

In simpler way let’s say vesicle is someone more flexible person and bead is a person whose body is rigid and hardly able to do any exercise. So, in our above analogy of road full of vehicles, a flexible person can easily go through the road as compared to the rigid one.

Inhibitors, as you can understand is someone blocking your path in between your journey towards destination.

What are the possible consequences of these findings for your research area?

In this research, we have come up with surprising alternation of property of inhibitors in crowded media. As they have not shown their inherent nature. For example, L- phenylalanine is an uncompetitive inhibitor but it didn’t inhibit the membrane bound enzyme in the crowded media and also inorganic phosphate which is a competitive inhibitor have shown uncompetitive inhibition in crowded media. With these findings, membrane bound enzymes can be protected from inhibitors in these crowded environments.

What was the exciting moment (eureka moment) during your research?

The most exciting and surprising moment was to observe uncompetitive inhibition in case of inorganic phosphate and no inhibition in case of L-phenylalanine in crowded media. It was such a surprise that I even didn’t notice it unless my Guide had told me. It was a wonder to think how can one compound had completely changed its nature depending upon its environment.

What do you hope to do next?

In this study, we have just explored the macromolecular crowding effect on the catalytic activity of enzyme bounded to membrane and beads in presence and in absence of inhibitors. Further we want to see how membrane bound enzyme or liposomes will behave in presence of different osmolytes i.e., Sucrose, maltose and other sugars. Then we will further proceed to Giant vesicles.

Where do you seek scientific inspiration?

Truly speaking, I was very keen in research up to my graduation but in masters, I lost my interest. After that I got selected in IISER Mohali for a Ph.D and after a lot of hustles and bustle I finally met my Supervisor Dr. Subhabrata Maiti who is awesome in every aspect both as a person and as a guide. He has been very supportive throughout my Ph.D years. He didn’t let my moral down and without his help I would never be able to do whatever I am doing right now.

Well, I have heard a lot of Nobel Laurette or scientists, I have wondered that people like us are doing amazing things out there but won’t feel much motivated. But when I see my supervisor working hard with every single of us in the lab I feel really motivated. My scientific inspiration comes from him.

How do you intend to help Indian science improve?

Well, Research is a kind of field where you always need a push or motivation to do work, to create, find something cool which you can offer to this society, Country and the World.

When we talk about Indian science, its very ancient and enriched. This is the land where great mathematicians, physicists, chemists or scientists were born and they worked in that era when there was not much facilities or sophisticated machines with us. So, in a way we are very privileged.

On the personal basis I mean in Ph.D I can contribute in science’s improvement by working honestly on my projects and by collaborating with amazing people out there. I believe that apart from funding, breakthrough research requires a team, a supportive environment and commitment because when you lose any of the single thing in Indian labs or institutes; it will definitely hinder improvements in Indian Science. As already they are.

Reference

Akshi Deshwal and Subhabrata Maiti. Macromolecular Crowding Effect on the Activity of Liposome-Bound Alkaline Phosphatase: A Paradoxical Inhibitory Action. Langmuir 2021 37 (23), 7273-7284. DOI: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.1c01177

Edited by: Dolly Singh

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