Aishwarya Sahasrabudhe, a biology Ph.D. student from the Menet lab, is one of the two recipients of the 2023 Roozbeh Arianpour Endowed Memorial Scholarship for overall excellence in biology research.
Earning her undergraduate degree from Stella Maris College in Chennai, India and her master’s degree from Pune University in Pune, India, Sahasrabudhe said she gained an interest in her field of research after looking into Texas A&M’s biology department on the internet.
“After I completed my master’s, I had a six month long fellowship before I moved on for a PhD here [at A&M] that I pursued in circadian biology,” Sahasrabudhe said. “So before moving here, for a PhD, I did not really have a background in circadian biology, but the research I did, looking up the department website really got me interested in what [Menet’s] lab did.”
Under Jerome Menet, Ph.D., Sahasrabudhe’s research concerns circadian rhythms, or how the natural 24-hour day and night cycle affects behavior, in humans. Specifically, Sahasrabudhe is interested in the relationship between these rhythms, eating, and the expression of genes.
“My project revolved around studying the role and importance of rhythmic food intake and how that contributed to driving gene expression,” Sahasrabudhe said. “We studied, in particular, the liver in mammalian systems. “We knew in the field that the circadian clock that is present in multiple tissues in the body is important for driving a majority of rhythmic gene expressions. However, there’s been a lot of research carried out in the past decade or so that has shown rhythmic food intake can also be equally, if not more important, at least with regards to the liver, in driving gene expression. So that was my project — identifying what could be the mechanism through which rhythmic food intake drives gene expression.”
Sahasrabudhe has specifically identified an enzyme called mTOR as being associated with how rhythmic food intake induces expression in genes. mTOR, Sahasrabudhe, could even be responsible for the conventional wisdom that eating at night contributes to weight gain.
“My project in particular looked at the role and significance of mTOR, which is an important nutrient sensing kinase in the body, and how that could drive rhythmic gene expression in the liver,” Sahasrabudhe said. “mTOR is a nutrient sensing kinase. The idea being that whenever you’re eating, you have high levels of mTOR. In our case, we tend to be more active during the day than the night, so we’re eating more during the day than night, so we would expect our mTOR activity to be higher during the day. If we start disturbing our rhythms of food intake by eating at wrong times of the day, you kind of disturb the rhythm of mTOR activity. Once the rhythms are disrupted, that could then lead to miss regulated gene expression, which then eventually leads to a lot of disruption in biological functions.”
Such research, Sahasrabudhe, could contribute to improving the health outcomes of night-shift workers.
One long-term application of our research is for shift workers who have erratic schedules — they are working and hence eating at erratic times,” Sahasrabudhe said. “That could potentially increase the potential for them to develop lifestyle related disorders and several cardiovascular diseases. The knowledge about the mTOR pathway that we have could prevent them from developing those disorders.
Outside of research, Sahasrabudhe works as a teaching assistant for introductory biology courses and anatomy and physiology labs.
“My experience with teaching has been really great,” Sahasrabudhe said. “I feel like it’s a good way to sort of bridge the gap between what you learned at the bench and sharing that with undergraduate students who are new to research itself. I enjoyed the years that I’ve taught.”
Menet said Sahasrabudhe, who is graduating soon, is looking forward to a bright future in biology.
“She’s great and amazing, and she did very well during her Ph.D.,” Menet said. “I don’t want her to leave, but she’s leaving by the end of this week. But I’m happy about what she accomplished during her Ph.D. and I’m sure she will do well, wherever she goes.”