SLAM Talk Title: "Choosing the Right Road to Aroma"
How did you originally get interested in science?
When I was in high school, I used to read/watch a lot of science fiction and documentaries. Given my love for all things biology, Jurassic Park, and Robin Cook, I decided to major in biotechnology. Having tried out different things in this field, here I am, still in love with the subject as much as I was a decade ago.
What is your favorite place at the Lab?
I work at Emery Station East. The fourth floor balcony has great views of the Golden Gate bridge and I enjoy having lunch with my friends there. Up the Hill, it is definitely the picnic tables by the cafeteria.
Most memorable moment at Berkeley Lab?
The Advanced Light Source (ALS) tour, for sure! As I looked up at the massive and beautifully crafted domed ceiling, I realized that somewhere below the structure I was standing on, were bunches of electrons, traveling at nearly the speed of light. And that these electron bunches are being beamed into stations where life changing and nobel winning discoveries were/are/will be made.
What are your hobbies or interests outside the Lab?
Reading novels, short walks along the bay trail, and occasional board/card games with friends. Currently obsessed with Wordle.
Aparajitha's Script - "Choosing The Right Road To Aroma"
When was the last time you went to a movie night? Remember enjoying it with some popcorn with the nutty, roasted aroma wafting about? There are additives in that popcorn enhancing its aroma and the flavor. Where do these food additives come from? They can be made using chemical synthesis. But you certainly do not want chemicals ending up on your plate. Do you? We can also extract them from natural sources such as plants. But we need atleast 1 ton of the plant material, to make atleast 1% of that aroma compound. Put it together with a billion consumers wanting popcorn, it certainly is not sustainable. That’s why I use microbes engineering them to make these natural compounds in large quantities by just feeding them with plant wastes Isn’t this process more sustainable?
Let’s get back to our movie night. If you must drive to the movie theatre, what is the first thing you will do? Hey, google, fine me the fastest route? Google then guides on the fastest road out of all possible roads and an “estimated” time of arrival. Likewise, I use computational modeling to predict the optimal road inside the microbial cell and an estimated amount of the aroma compound that can be made using the road. I pick this best road and test it experimentally in the lab. Do you think I will end up with loads of that aroma compound?
Here's a clue. Now, how often have you reached the movie theatre at exactly the right time that google predicted when you looked it up the first time? “Expect 11 min delay”, “Take detours”… You see the ETAs changing as you drive. Because it is just an “estimated” time and it depends on several factors happening along your drive. Google collects these real-time data and keeps updating the time of arrival. In the microbial cells, I give these real-time updates from experimental data at multiple levels, say the condition of the road that your traveling- the “genome”, regulating traffic lights- the “transcriptome”, the number of cars driving at any given point of time on the road- the “fluxome”. We call this multi-omics analysis. I feed all the data back to the model so that it can make better predictions in the next iteration. This rational model-guided microbial engineering can not only help us make more aroma compounds but also compounds that can be potentially used as jet-fuels or compostable plastics.
The next time you are having a movie night with some delicious popcorn, I hope you will remember me and my microbes on the hunt for the right road to natural aroma compounds in a sustainable manner.