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Updated: April 6, 2014 17:51 IST
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Slice of life at Varese

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Muthukumaran Rajagopalan
Special Arrangement Muthukumaran Rajagopalan

Muthukumaran Rajagopalan’s project at Varese, Italy, helped him sharpen his research skills.

Numerous memories crossed my mind when I sat down to sum up my experiences as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Insubria in Varese, Italy. When I got the offer in 2013 to work as a post-doctoral researcher in the Laboratory of Developmental Biology, University of Insubria, I was excited, yet I had butterflies in my stomach. This was partly owing to the thought of moving to an alien land and also the idea of working on the silkworm — Bombyx mori, a close relative of the butterflies. But I felt at home once I interacted with my mentor for the programme, Prof. Gianluca Tettamanti, and his lab members.

Our team focused on exploring the morphological and molecular mechanisms behind the remodelling of midgut cells by the process of autophagy and apoptosis. It was indeed an enriching experience to analyse specific protein-related changes occurring during the developmental phases of B.mori. A precise understanding of the behaviour of midgut cells was achieved through histological and biochemical analysis. The facilities available at the lab were excellent and I got acquainted with few microscopic techniques as well.

We were able to decipher some key facts regarding the proteomic changes in different instars (stages of development) of the larvae, moth and adult stages of B.mori. I was given generous support, and, more importantly, the opportunity to work independently by my mentor. Regular updates at weekly lab meetings helped me fine-tune my research. I was inspired by the meticulous care taken by our university to produce high-quality research work. I also had the opportunity to participate in scientific conferences and brain-storming sessions and meet people from diverse fields to exchange critical ideas.

Speaking Italian

Varese being situated close to the Alps, I had to endure some freezing days as well as sweltering sunny days. Though I had some difficulty while communicating in Italian, I learnt a few important phrases through my lab mates and friends who were friendly and supportive.

The time spent off campus was an absolutely fantastic and refreshing experience. With its close proximity to the fashion capital, Milan, each trip became fascinating. I took time to visit the beautiful lakes and hills around our city, evergreen sculptures in Rome, the sprawling Vatican museum, splendid architecture of Florence, the picturesque Liguria and the breathtaking views of Venice.

The writer is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Insubria in Varese, Italy.

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