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Hydra as model system

Dr Puli Chandramouli Reddy from India is currently conducting research in the working group led by Professor Thomas Bosch and in the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 1182 "Origin and Function of Metaorganisms" at the CAU. In the unizeit interview, the visiting scientist from India reveals what brought him to Kiel and what he is currently working on.

Dr. Puli Chandramouli Reddy
© Christian Urban

Puli Reddy during a lecture at Kiel's Centre for Molecular Biosciences (ZMB).

unizeit: Thank you very much for the opportunity to conduct this interview! How did your stay at the CAU come about?

Puli Chandramouli Reddy: Several years ago, I came to Kiel University as a doctoral researcher. It all began with a visit by Thomas Bosch at a conference in India, where we met. In India there are not even a handful of working groups which investigate the freshwater polyp Hydra as a model organism. At that time, I visited Thomas' laboratory, and learned a lot about the biology of Hydra. Thanks to this inspiration, I then continued my research into this organism. And as part of my current grant from the Wellcome Trust UK and the DBT India Alliance, I am now back in Kiel to create transgenic Hydrae.

To what extent are Hydra interesting for your research?

Just like humans, Hydra host many microbes. It is interesting to learn how these contribute to the fitness of the organism. What happens if these microbes are no longer present? Thomas' lab has already demonstrated the importance of the different microbial organisms, and their role in the development of Hydra. Now I'm concentrating on how they communicate with the Hydra genome. For example, the microbes can utilise nutrients and deliver certain metabolic products, which are used by Hydra for direct regulation of their genome.

What is your work all about?

Every animal, every plant, and also every human being, hosts various types of microbes, they coexist with many different species. But we are losing these microbes, because we now use a lot of antibiotics. Antibiotics do not differentiate, and kill all germs, regardless of whether they are harmful or not. We also nourish ourselves in very different ways. These differences in lifestyle affect the entire microbial colonisation. If you disrupt this symbiotic relationship, it will naturally have an impact – this is what we want to understand.

How did you arrive at this particular topic?

I come from the southern part of India, a sub-tropical, warm and green region. I was born and grew up in a predominantly agricultural area. So I lived in the middle of the wilderness, always surrounded by nature. I was fascinated by the diversity of the various forms of life.

I completed my studies in chemistry, biochemistry and biotechnology. Later, I started developing an interest in the regeneration of Hydra. If you cut Hydra into two halves, they can regenerate. Therefore I wanted to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying this process. It is a very simple organism, with only two main body layers and two defined body axes. Many organisms later developed complex body shapes and different organs. This is therefore a starting point, at which neural cell types or muscle epithelial cells appeared for the first time. What kind of evolutionary transitions led to these innovations? This is very interesting for me.

Please tell us about your institution in your home country.

After completing my doctoral thesis, I joined an institute called the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, which is located in Pune in the western part of India, and is directly funded by the Indian Ministry of Human Resource Development. It is regarded as a top-class institute with state-of-the-art infrastructure, which meets all international standards. In my current position at the start of my career, I am mainly focussing on research. Whatever insights I may gain, I will use in teaching later. Thanks to the diverse departments at the institute, I have the possibility to learn many things from other working groups, we can work together and jointly reach our goals quickly.

What are the differences between the academic world in India and that in Europe?

There are advantages and disadvantages in both systems. My experience is that here in Germany, science is part of the culture. Just like art, for example music or theatre. This is not so in India. There, art is an important part of the culture, but science is not yet. The main goal of the education system in India is the creation of jobs. Now things are starting to change, but slowly.

Due to the lack of infrastructure, Indians also don’t have the opportunity to gain practical experience at an early stage. They must wait until university to carry out experiments themselves. At present, people in India do very well in the theoretical sciences, such as mathematics or computer science, which require little infrastructure.

What are your plans for the next few years?

I am learning a lot in Kiel, for example in the priority research area Kiel Life Science, in which various institutions and areas of expertise collaborate, so that together they can achieve much more. In India, I would like to establish Hydra as a model system. At the same time, I would like to teach people what I have learned, so that I can inspire their minds. My goal will initially be to get a secure position, and then to implement what I have learned from the experiences gained, especially here in Kiel. Because my family lives in India, I will feel more comfortable going back and pursuing my further career at home.

This interview was conducted by Christian Urban.

Dr Puli Chandramouli Reddy is an India Alliance Early Career Fellow in the Department of Biology at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) in Pune, India. A current grant from the Wellcome Trust UK and the DBT India Alliance enables him to spend eighteen months conducting research in the Cell and Developmental Biology (Bosch AG) working group at Kiel University, among other things The leader of the working group, Professor Thomas Bosch, has maintained good contact with Indian scientists and research institutions for many years. Reddy hopes that his research stay will not only produce new discoveries on host-microbe interactions, but also intensify relationships with IISER and the other research institutes in India in the long term.