Faculty Spotlight: Kallol Gupta

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Appointed to numerous departments and schools across Yale, over 40 faculty members have established their labs at Yale West Campus in no fewer than seven institutes covering cancer biology, nanobiology, microbial science, energy science, and more. A place designed for “research convergence,” faculty conduct research that crosses traditional boundaries, leveraging the expertise of colleagues from diverse backgrounds as a vital step towards new scientific discovery.

Kallol Gupta, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Cell Biology, Yale School of Medicine. Kallol received a PhD in 2013 from the Indian Institute of Science before moving to the University of Oxford as a Fellow of the 1851 Royal Commission. There his interests converged in the study of membrane protein biology. He arrived at Yale in 2018, setting up a new lab within the Nanobiology Institute.

Q: What is your academic focus or research specialty?

Our lab is focused on membrane dynamics, particularly how molecules interact at the membrane surface. If we think of the cell as a room, the membrane acts like a wall, separating and sorting materials inside and out. And just like a wall, the membrane has specific entry points – made up with various proteins and lipids. These molecules are in a perpetual dynamic state, where their temporal associations dictate at any given point how a cell would react to its external stimuli. We are interested in developing new ways to look at these dynamic entities to get a more accurate picture of how molecules are interacting at different time points. Our goal is to develop methodologies to apply molecular resolution to various aspects of biology.

Q: What are the long-term goals of your work and how does it relate to health science?  

If you go to any high street drugstore, 60% of therapeutics are targeting membrane proteins. What’s really exciting for us is that the last ten years have seen a big increase in our knowledge of these proteins. Cryo-EM technology has completely revolutionized how we can see and manipulate the structure of membrane proteins.

Like any components of a cell, nothing works alone. A membrane protein of interest which you’re trying to drug could have 20 interacting partners. The next phase in our work is to understand how these partner networks interact in different disease conditions, and how they change over time. Answering this requires two different tools in our experimental arsenal: first, we need a greater depth of molecular resolution to help us identify one molecule over thousands of possible others. Second, instead of examining molecular structures artificially by removing them from the cell, we need methods to understand molecular associations directly within the native cellular membrane. We are developing a mass spectrometry-based ‘nativeomics’ approach that gives us a vantage point to take any disease state and look at the membrane associated molecular association network, and to compare what’s happening in the actual disease itself - all directly from the cellular membrane.

Q: How will the Institute model and the technical resources available at the West Campus help you achieve your goals?

One of the major reasons I chose Yale is the open space offered at the West Campus. This helps tremendously, especially for younger investigators. Here we’ve dissolved the conventional structure of academia to connect multiple disciplines and an array of different expertise. I belong to the cell biology department, but I’ve always been a chemist, doing my PhD and postdoc in chemistry departments. But if we really want to apply the techniques we’re developing we have to work with the biologist, and that’s where the West Campus is so good. Two of our current projects happened when I arrived here, one of them completely by accident. We’re starting to discover new things, and that’s where the true potential is. We have a mass spectrometer in the lab but we also rely on the instruments within the campus’ Analytical Core. In most core facilities, you drop your sample outside and get an email with the result. Here the instruments are open access, so if you want to use them you get trained, your student or postdoc actually runs the experiment, you take responsibility your data, and you are learning through the process. I can walk down the hall and we have all these instruments at our disposal.

Q: What are your interests outside of science?

I crossed The Pond from the UK to start my lab and didn’t know anyone. There are differences between Oxford and New Haven, but both are small cities with strong cultural roots connected to their universities. The liberal environment permeates local society, and here in New Haven we have a very outgoing place where we go cycling, rafting, skiing in winter. I enjoy public transport and take the Yale Shuttle every day! This is the third continent I’ve lived in and where I’ve done science, so making comparisons is a hobby in itself. Things I miss from Britain? That’s easy: I miss cricket, the pubs, and of course fish and chips!

By Jon Atherton