I think I was nudged into science more than I’d like to have been, but that doesn’t mean I’m unhappy with the end result! I went to an expat-run high school in the Middle East, where any aptitude for learning meant that you were encouraged to take up subjects that were perceived to be ‘harder’. So I ended up taking science subjects in my final years of high school, and applying to do a Bachelors degree in Science at universities in Australia. I’ve always loved science, so I’m not unhappy about this by any means, but I often wonder what else I might’ve ended up doing if I’d had more options growing up.
It was during my first lecture in second year microbiology at university. Our lecturer walked in and one of the first things he told us was that our bodies carry more bacterial cells than our own. That made me sit up and think – we need to understand more about these organisms – we need all the eyes we can get on them! So that’s where my love of anything microscopic and living comes from. I think bacteria, archaea, and viruses hold the keys to understanding so much about ourselves, and where we came from, and I can’t wait to see what we uncover with them next.
My PhD involved looking at how vaccinia virus (the world’s first recognised vaccine – which is what we used to eradicate smallpox) interacts with the host cell’s cytoskeleton. The cytoskeleton is what gives all our cells shape and structure, and allows them to move, if necessary. A few viruses and intracellular bacteria have the ability to manipulate actin, the protein that largely comprises the cytoskeleton, for their own nefarious purposes of moving around within a cell, and to spread from cell-to-cell as well. I was focused on looking at two isoforms (very genetically similar) variants of actin, and how each might influence virus-induced motility. The new lab I hope to join soon also focuses on actin cell dynamics (although they don’t work with viruses, so I can be a little more lax about personal protective equipment!) and I’m very excited to continue my interests in this field with them.
Actin is the most abundant protein in our bodies. Its regulation (or lack thereof) ties into several disease processes in the body, from cancer metastasis, hearing loss, kidney diseases, and other genetic issues. Actin is often the first line of defence against invading pathogens, and is often manipulated to enhance infections. The more we understand about how it works, the better equipped we are at tackling these issues that result from its dysfunction.
I started doing stand-up comedy during the second year of my PhD and have enjoyed every minute of it. I started a monthly comedy night with a few friends in Sydney to provide a safe supportive space and to encourage diversity in the stand-up scene here. I also wrote for SBS Comedy, a comedy website that featured satirical articles on current events. I have also branched into doing science communication, and have spoken at a few writers’ and science festivals on science communication and storytelling in science. And I help run @RealScientists when I can!
I guess my extra-curricular activities also double as my hobbies? Is that too boring? I make a mean lemon loaf and love to cook/bake when I can!
Ideal Day off: A day spent baking for my friends before they come over for board games and South Asian food. Gosh, send me to a nursing home already!
Please welcome Bish to Real Scientists!