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Dr. Pinky. K. Sharma

Wellcome trust-DBT Intermediate Fellow
E-mail: pksharma at rcb dot res dot in

  • PhD 2009, National Centre for biological Sciences (TIFR-NCBS), Bangalore
  • Postdoc (2009-2011) at Institute of Neurobiology, University of Muenster, Germany
  • Postdoc (2011-2015) at University of California Riverside, USA
  • Research Project Scientist (2015-2016) at University of California Riverside, USA
  • Wellcome Trust-DBT Intermediate fellow (2016) at Regional Centre for Biotechnology, India

Understanding taste using Drosophila melanogaster

Dissecting Taste Neural circuits and taste modulation:

Taste is extremely important for all the organisms to evaluate and choose foods that are rich in calories and avoid bitter compounds that may be toxic. Like Humans, the common kitchen fruit fly -Drosophila melanogaster is able to taste amazingly similar range of organic molecules. Using their peripheral taste organs, flies detect different taste compounds in their environment.

By exploiting the gustatory system of flies, our lab is interested in understanding how do flies make the feeding decisions? Specifically, we are interested in understanding how the taste information is wired in the brain and how it gets modulated by intrinsic and extrinsic factors. We are interested in dissecting the taste neural circuits that convey taste information to the brain and are involved in simple feeding behaviors like acceptance or rejection of food. Identification of various neurons will provide valuable insight into the neural architecture of appetitive and aversive circuits.

Disease carrying and crop destroying insects use their senses of taste and smell to find hosts and food. Insect borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and Chikungunya are transmitted via feeding behaviors. The results from simple models systems like Drosophila could potentially be applied to safe and cost effective pest control by improving insect trapping strategies and thus reduce pathogen transmission by insects and greatly benefit the agricultural industry and therefore society as a whole.

Understanding the link: Obesity and Satiety

While enjoying food, it is essential that one should know when to stop when you are full. Metabolic conditions and eating disorders including obesity, diabetics, cardiovascular diseases and hypertension are affecting millions of people every year. Increased consumption of sweet products is a growing concern with medical authorities and it has been linked to the rising incidents of Diabetes and Obesity all over the world. Hence, it is essential to balance the nutrient intake and maintain stable body weight to regulate metabolism. The lab is interested in exploring how the hunger and satiety are achieved by identifying pathways, neurons and genes involved and relate our findings to homologous mammalian genes with similar functions to discover conserved pathways that regulate hunger and satiety.

Eat it right:

Salt (NaCl) is an essential component of our diets. Presence of salt makes food more palatable than the same food with no salt. Right and small amounts of salt is essential for our health. Literature suggest that adults need less than 1 gram per day and children need even less. In India, general salt consumption is approximately 8.0 g of salt per day, far more than we need, putting us at risk of various health problems like blood pressure. Raised blood pressure (hypertension) is the major factor which causes strokes, heart failure and heart attacks, the leading causes of death and disability worldwide.  There is also increasing evidence of a link between high salt intake and stomach cancer, osteoporosis, obesity, kidney stones, kidney disease and vascular dementia and water retention. Salt can also exacerbate the symptoms of asthma, Ménière's disease and diabetes. A high salt diet can cause calcium to be lost from bones and excreted in the urine, making bones weak and easily broken.

Various hypothesis suggest that optimal salt preferences are learned. Early experience with low or high salt diets may have a long-term impact on preferred salt levels. Liking for salt, similar to liking for sweets, has an innate basis that can be modified by individual experience. We are using Drosophila melanogaster to understand the behavioral and sensory factors involved in maintaining high salt preference as a prerequisite to successful programs aimed at reducing intake.

Healthy aging, healthy eating:

Both smell and taste play vital roles in food enjoyment and safety. A delightful meal or pleasant smell can improve social interaction and enjoyment of life. Various groups have reported that number of taste buds decreases with age. Sensitivity to the five main tastes often declines after age 60. In addition, our mouth produces less saliva as we age. This can cause dry mouth, which can affect your sense of taste. Decreased taste and smell can lead to less interest, diminished appetite and no enjoyment while eating. Using Drosophila, we are trying to understand the effects of aging and diseased condition on taste behavior. Understanding the taste age-related factors can help us prepare to accept change, adapt, and be aware of potential hazards and help in aging gracefully with changed heathy eating habits.

  • Wellcome Trust-DBT Intermediate Fellow
  • Sachin Kumar
    Research Scientist
    sachin@rcb.res.in
  • Shrishti Sanghi
    Project associate
    srishti@rcb.res.in
  • Pragya Kaul
    Research trainee
  • Shivam Kaushik
    Research trainee
  • Rahul Kumar
    Research trainee
  1. Guda T, Kain P, Sharma K R, Pham C K, Ray A (2015) Repellent compound with larger protective zone than DEET identified through activity-screening of Ir40a neurons, does not require Or function. bioRxiv : 017145
  2. Kain P,  Dahanukar A (2015) Secondary taste neurons that convey sweet taste and starvation in the Drosophila brain. Neuron 85:819
  3. Badsha F, Kain P, Prabhakar S, Sundaram S, Padinjat R, Rodrigues V, Hasan G (2012) Mutants in Drosophila TRPC channels reduce olfactory sensitivity to carbon dioxide. PLoS One 7:e49848
  4. Schmidt I, Thomas S, Kain P, Risse B, Naffin E, Klämbt C (2012) Kinesin heavy chain function in Drosophila glial cells controls neuronal activity. J Neurosci 32:7466
  5. Kain P, Badsha F, Hussain SM, Nair A, Hasan G, Rodrigues V (2010) Mutants in phospholipid signaling attenuate the behavioral response of adult Drosophila to trehalose. Chem Senses 35:663
  6. Kain P, Chandrashekaran S, Rodrigues V, Hasan G (2009) Drosophila mutants in phospholipid signaling have reduced olfactory responses as adults and larvae. J Neurogenet 23:303
  7. Kain P, Chakraborty T S, Rodrigues V, Hasan G (2008) Multiplicity of G Protein Signalling Mechanisms in Drosophila Olfactory Transduction. Chemical Senses  33:S29
  8. Kain P, Chakraborty TS, Sundaram S, Siddiqi O, Rodrigues V, Hasan G (2008) Reduced odor responses from antennal neurons of G(q)alpha, phospholipase Cbeta, and rdgA mutants in Drosophila support a role for a phospholipid intermediate in insect olfactory transduction. 28:4745

Patents

  1. Ray A, Kain P, Pham C (2015) Methods for identifying arthropod repellents based on modulation of specific ionotropic receptors, and compounds and compositions identified by such methods. US Patent 14:853

Dr. Pinky K Sharma
Wellcome trust-DBT Intermediate Fellow
Regional Centre for Biotechnology
NCR Biotech Science Cluster
3rd Milestone, Faridabad-Gurgaon Expressway
P.O. Box No. 3, Faridabad - 121 001
Haryana (NCR Delhi), India e-mail:pksharma at rcb dot res dot in
Phone: 91 129-2848821, 91 0129-6518860

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