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Day in the life of … a synbio scientist discovering bio-pheromones

Dr Kalyani Kallam shares with us how she came from a rural village in India to our DNA Foundry, focusing on making a sustainable world a reality through alternative bioproduction for crop health.

15 August 2018

Dr Kalyani Kallam shares with us how she came from a rural village in India to our DNA Foundry, focusing on making a sustainable world a reality through alternative bioproduction for crop health - highlighting the importance of having a good support network and being especially inspired by strong female leaders in engineering biology.

How did you get into synthetic biology? Why did you choose EI?


I love molecular work and addressing fundamental questions in plant biology. Based on my interests and skill set in molecular biology, plant secondary metabolism and future outlook, I realised that synthetic biology is the best way forward. I chose to work with Dr Patron as she is an ambitious, inspiring and young group leader who I can learn a lot from; I feel fortunate for the opportunity.

EI is a cross-disciplinary Institute driven by genomics research where I can gain more knowledge in the areas that I am a novice, and work towards discovery of unknown insect pheromone pathways. We are living in a technologically advanced and challenging era in many ways. Using cutting-edge genomics tools has become inevitable with every project. By being part of Dr Patron’s Group and EI, I am confident I can apply these skills not only in my current project but my future endeavours too.


What project are you currently working on?


I am a Postdoctoral Scientist working on “sustainable bioproduction of pheromones for insect pest control in agriculture”. This project involves engineering synthetic pathways in plants by bringing in orthogonal genes to produce the desired chemical molecules. I chose this project as I get to use an advance synthetic biology platform combining genomics resources and contribute to tackling the global problem of pest control in an ecofriendly way.

Currently, heavy use of pesticides across the globe causes environmental concerns and leads to human health hazards including cancers. Through this project, I believe we are laying a foundation for the next generation of projects and thought-leaders towards sustainability.


What’s your motivation?


My love of plants and agriculture developed as a child. I grew up in a small rural village in Andhra Pradesh in India. I assisted my parents in the small vegetable and flower patch we had and accompanied them to our fields growing bananas and onions. I remember enjoying every day in the countryside setting which felt never ending. As I grew, I became aware of the importance of agriculture to our society, coupled with my fascination when I first learnt Mendelian genetics during my A levels. Later in life, I was struck by the awesomeness of the technology of genetic engineering, which led to my decision to choose the life path of contributing to society through science.


As Kalyani grew up she became aware of the importance of agriculture to our society.
Day in life Kalyani Kallam 770

What does your typical day look like? What’s the best part of your day?


My daily work involves project design, learning new relevant concepts, meetings, attending seminars and lab work. Never one day is alike; the more I learn, the more I realise how little I know. The never-ending learning phase of my day is the most exciting part. Helping me in this process are my interactions with the brilliant minds across Norwich Research Park.


What are you proud of? Is there something you would have done differently?


Coming from a small rural place to a foreign land, I had to work hard and make many sacrifices to be where I am now. I am happy and grateful to my family and mentors who have not only supported me through my journey but also for giving me that next chance I always wanted. Being part of EI is also great in the way that it is a multicultural and sociable environment that I feel comfortable working in. Had I the chance, there are many things I would do differently; the most important being to interact and network.


What has been your biggest challenge?


My journey to where I am now has been a long one with many experiences. I have developed my strategic thinking and perseverance. But my biggest challenge is to network. Honing that skill is my top priority, I believe this will give me the tools to be successful in the coming years. Sometimes it is hard to understand what we are good at or show it off, but I believe in self-evolution as along our passion drives us to our goal.


Who or what inspires you?


I am fortunate to have worked and currently work with dynamic leaders in their scientific fields who believe in their strengths. They are always my professional inspiration. Hard working and honest people like my parents who always stayed positive no matter what, inspires me the most.


What do you like to do out of work?


Family and plants are my breath. Never a day passes without taking care of them. I like gardening and have a fondness to interior designing. I recharge my body doing them.


Spending her spare time gardening helps Kalyani to feel revitalised.
Day in life Kalyani gardening 770

What are your career aspirations; where would you like to be in five-years’ time?


Like any other women, I want to be independant both professionally and financially. I am hoping to achieve this in the coming years. Not only do I want to contribute to society, but help and influence a few other women in the process.

... I believe in self-evolution as along our passion drives us to our goal.

What advice would you give to those who are interested in getting into genomics research?

Always be willing to take advice and look forward to your next goal.