The College congratulates Biochemistry Lecturer Dr Madhu Srinivasan who has been awarded a Wellcome Trust Career Development Award. We asked him to tell us about his work.

Congratulations on this award! Please can you tell us a bit about the research this award will fund and the questions you are trying to answer?

Thank you. The Wellcome Trust CDA provides generous funding to drive innovative programmes of research that have a potential to deliver significant shifts in understanding that could improve human life, health, and wellbeing.

The instructions for life are carried in long molecules of DNA called chromosomes that must be accurately copied and shared out every time a cell divides. How cells achieve this important task is completely unclear. What is clear however is that when cells get it wrong, the consequences are catastrophic and manifest as cancers and developmental disorders in humans. We want to understand how the duplicated chromosomes are equally split during cell division.

What are the key challenges in this area of study?

Over the past 10 years, we have uncovered that in order to precisely divide a duplicated chromosome, the two copies of the chromosome are held together from the moment they are generated until just prior to cell division. Crucially, the chromosomes are not chemically altered, but rather they are physically held together. The key challenge has been the development of the means to measure ‘holding together’ of DNAs. We have just developed a means to measure this physical association and are very excited to use this method to test the requirements for this process.

How do you balance teaching commitments with your research?

While this seems a daunting task, I find teaching and interacting with the students extremely rewarding and even relaxing. I always find that I am able to think most clearly about our research problems after I have had a lecture or tutorial with the students.

What advice would you give students just starting out in the field of Biochemistry?

My only advice would be to try to enjoy what they do. I find that sometimes there is a tendency to get bogged down by the details and this invariably leads to a loss of interest on the topic. For someone starting out in Biochemistry, it is not about the details. Rather, it is about the understanding of the underlying logic and the inherent simplicity and beauty of that logic. 

What’s your favourite place in Oxford?

There are too many places to list. However, walking along Catte street en route to Queen’s, I am always awestruck by the beauty of the Radcliffe Camera with the University Church in the background.