Cycling through time: DIAS Fellow Kedar Nath Natarajan’s Interdisciplinary Research on Embryonic Development

As a molecular biologist and computational scientist, Kedar Nath Natarajan is looking to understand the early development of the human embryo. Through interdisciplinary collaborations between the fields of molecular biology, microscopy, genomics, informatics and big-data analysis, Kedar Nath Natarajan seeks to answer a fundamental biological question: How does the cell cycle influence the decision-making of stem cells?  

The human body has 37 trillion cells that all arose from a single fertilized cell. The single cell duplicates its genetic content and divides into two daughter cells, through a process called the cell’s cycle – thereby scales the number of cells needed to form organs, tissues and entire organisms incl. humans.

During this developmental journey, stem cells are found in the ~64-100 cell stage. These stem cells have the remarkable ability to decide whether they will become kidney cells, heart cells, lever cells and so on. This is the fundamental fate specification of stem cells coupled to cell cycle which leads to the formation of all tissue and organs in the human body.

Kedar Natarajan wants to understand how this cell cycle is coupled with the existential choice of the cell – why does a stem cell multiply into one certain kind of cell and not another? Such insight will help further the understanding of how embryos in humans and mammals work. This work also has profound implications for diseases including Cancers, where cells undergo uncontrolled multiplication with loss of specification; as well as in ageing, where cells lose the ability to undergo cell cycle and replenish necessary cell types.  

The overall goal for Kedar and his research group is to study biology at a single-cell level from a systems biology perspective and observe how stem cells behave in normal systems as well as diseases systems. A dysregulated system is evident in cancer diseases: When the cell cycle is disrupted, the cellular movement becomes chaotic and unrestrained. Through interdisciplinary collaborations Kedar and his team strive to decode these fundamental biological connections at a single-cell level:

“We try to combine experimental methods with informatics to integrate them together to make fundamental predictions on what the cells do in a normal system and what they do in dysregulated systems such as cancer or disease. “

This project requires high-capacity technologies such as genomics, microscopy, advanced bioinformatics and big-data computational biology. The Danish institute for Advanced Study and University of Southern Denmark support this interdisciplinary research.

“My research is state-of-the-art, generating a lot of data and we’re building new tools, new methods and new technologies to trying address at the single-cell-level how early embryonic development occurs.”

The purpose of DIAS is to inspire groundbreaking ideas through the meeting of minds from all disciplines. Kedar Nath Natarajan has been partaking in this interdisciplinary framework since 2018.

About Kedar Nath Natarajan: 

Besides being a fellow at DIAS, Kedar Nath Natarajan is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Southern Denmark. He obtained his Ph.D. from Imperial College London, working jointly between the Faculty of Medicine and Department of Mathematics. He did his postdoctoral fellowship at Wellcome Sanger Institute and European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge.

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