Theoretical Physics Colloquium

Physicists Can Do Great Biology – Two Case Studies

by Prof. Gyan Bhanot (Rutgers University)

Tuesday, January 31, 2023 from to (Asia/Kolkata)
at AG69 and Zoom
In this talk I will describe two case studies of work by Physics PhD students who switched to Biology. The first study, by Aatish Bhatia and Kshitij Wagh, tackled the problem of why, in spite of a high cholesterol diet of milk, blood and meat, the Maasai of East Africa have extremely low levels of total cholesterol. By comparing  Maasai genomes to genomes of other Africans, Asians, and Europeans, they identified genetic variations that protected the Maasai from hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), atherosclerosis (hardening of the coronary arteries), lactose intolerance (inability to digest milk) and gallstones. The second study, by Anshuman Panda, was about a new cancer treatment called Immune Checkpoint Therapy (ICT), discovered by James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo (2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine). Because ICT has many side effects, a major challenge was to find biomarkers to identify likely responders. Anshuman used data from The Cancer Genome Atlas to find both mechanisms and biomarkers of response. The work was impressive enough to  convince the medical community and the pharmaceutical industry. After several clinical trials based on what he found, his discoveries are now in routine clinical use. 

Since the audience will consist mainly of physicists, I will develop all the biology background necessary to make the talk accessible, even for those who have never taken a biology course in their life.