Microbiologist who is cooking up a storm on the frontline & behind the scenes!

Seethalakshmi (vimisha)

Microbiologist (AMRWATCH), Pondicherry University, India

Hi there! I’m Seetha, a detective of the microbial world, always seeking out new frontiers in this exciting and rapidly-evolving field. The start of my fascination with the “microverse” can be traced back to my high school days, where I first demonstrated the potential of bacteria as a green energy source for a science fair project. Since then, I have been captivated by the intricate world of microorganisms. My work as a microbiologist is incredibly varied, and I’m always learning something new. I might spend one day in the lab, analyzing samples and running experiments, and the next day out in the field, collecting samples from different environments. Some days, I will be sitting at my computer, looking like a mad scientist, surrounded by endless streams of code and data. Despite the challenges, though, I love it when those diagrams finally start to take shape! As a microbiologist, I’ve seen some pretty strange things in the lab. From bacteria that glow in the dark, to microorganisms that thrive in a bacteriological media with 5M NaCl! When I’m not working in the lab, you might find me exploring the great outdoors, or trying out the latest restaurant and sometimes creating new culinary masterpieces (or disasters!).

One of the things I love most about being a microbiologist is the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives and I am glad to be part of such projects in my career. One such experience was working on a government funded project during my undergraduate program which involved the chemical and microbiological analysis of ground-water sources throughout India. The findings from the study were like a wake-up call to the community, highlighting the risks of contamination and the urgent need for action. We collaborated with local authorities, environmental organizations, and other stakeholders to implement these measures, ensuring that our findings translated into meaningful action. It’s funny how life has a way of throwing scientific projects my way that always seem to involve real-life problems, only this time I get to make a thesis out of it. During my master’s project at Pondicherry University, my supervisor presented me with a unique challenge. He asked me to collect samples from a shrimp hatchery that had experienced a devastating mass mortality of the larvae they were rearing. The hatchery had been shut down, and it was my job to investigate what had happened and see if there was a way to prevent it from happening again in the future. As I collected samples and conducted analyses, I realized that the issue was caused by a combination of environmental factors and microbial infections. I further delved into the problem and identified that two multi-drug resistant Vibrio isolates of hemolytic phenotype was the etiological agent and tried to develop nanoparticles that could kill them without harming the larvae. Unfortunately, my research work was cut short due to the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic. I was initially disheartened that I could not finish my previous work. However, life had a way of bringing me back to my university. In fact, it led me to my next big gig- AMRWATCH.

Working on an international project was like being in a global laboratory where the experiments were conducted across borders and it was such a humbling experience for me to realize that I am part of a global effort to improve health and wellbeing of the public. It was exciting to see how our shared passion for science united us despite our diverse backgrounds. Friday progress meetings with my colleagues were instrumental in helping me navigate the challenges of my research. It was during these meetings that we would discuss our ongoing projects, troubleshoot any issues, and provide constructive feedback to each other. These meetings provided me with valuable insights and perspectives, and helped me refine my research approach.

While wet and dry lab work were certainly important components of the project, I was also thrilled to have the opportunity to engage in social work as part of the project. Through our social work activities, I had the chance to interact with people from different walks of life and learn about their experiences and needs in healthcare. Whether it was engaging with local community groups, attending public meetings, or participating in outreach events, I felt privileged to have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives outside of the lab. This aspect of the project allowed me to see firsthand the impact of our work on the community, and to understand the importance of engaging with stakeholders beyond the lab.

A walk down memory lane: a collage of some of my favorite moments from my past work with AMRWATCH

Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.” – Albert Szent-Györgyi

This quote by Albert Szent-Györgyi perfectly captures what research means to me. As an aspiring PhD candidate, my goal is not only to understand what is already known in my field but to take it a step further by thinking outside the box and exploring new ideas. With dedication and hard work, I aspire to make my own contribution to the scientific community by discovering something that nobody else has thought of before. And when I am not in the lab, I’ll be busy trying to convince people that not all microbes are scary!