I spent the Summer of 2014, after graduating from IIT Madras, at RIKEN – Yokohama investigating the transcriptome of a cell and to build tools to better analyze and study them. Simply speaking the idea was to define a cell state based on the profile of the transcripts that the genes produce (~20,000 odd in humans, which ultimately are translated into proteins) and to be able to follow the change in cell states via a shift in these profiles. In its cessation, these technologies can be used to study the progress of a disease or even diagnose one before it takes over the body in hyperdrive. They can also find rich implementations in regenerative biology, as we now have the power to define a cell state by tweaking or treating cells to behave a certain way and transform into particular lineages. I used machine learning algorithms to expound genes associated with certain treatments or stresses on the cell, from large scale stochastic single cell transcriptomic data.
Overall the experience was highly insightful and beneficial as very few laboratories in the world actually have the cutting-edge technology to probe the cell using such sophisticated tools. Also, since I have had prior experiences in wet-lab biology, it was a huge learning curve transitioning into concepts of computer-science and big-data analysis, one that was aided by a lot of guidance from my mentor, Dr. Jay Shin (whom I’d like to whole-heartedly thank once again!). The experience also helped me better realize how I would want to pave my research for my doctoral thesis.
On the flipside of work, a lot of my time in Japan was spent backpacking over the weekends (I went west as far as Hiroshima over one!), and witnessing a cultural hub like Kyoto and Miyajima, enjoying the nocturnal-sights Tokyo and Osaka has to offer, and top it all up hiking and summiting Takao-san and Kagenobu-san, enroute to Jimba-san.
But the highlight of my stay in Japan has to be the Sunday morning trek to Fuji-san, which has so far been one of my most challenging and excruciating hikes. As simple as it may seem, I was on a tight race against time, dwindling levels of oxygen, and steadily dropping temperatures. I was consumed by the chants of “ganbatte!” from fellow climbers ranging from a few years old to septuagenarians. But I still remember, how all of it was overpowered in that magical moment when I witnessed the golden Sunday morning sunrise (on the 13th July just a few days before I was to leave for India, the memory is still fresh!). I could feel no magic greater than that of nature and I lost track of all time and civilization, before I decided to bid adieu to the peak and continue my journey just as the weather took a turn for the worse, and heavy showers made my descent challenging. It was an overwhelming learning experience to say the least. One that cannot be described with the words available at my disposal. One that needs to be lived, to fathom!