Life Sciences, 2014

Shubha Tole

Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, India

The Infosys Prize 2014 in Life Sciences is awarded to Prof. Shubha Tole for her significant contributions to our understanding of how the brain's structure and circuitry are formed in the embryo. Her research uncovers common genetic mechanisms that control the development of the hippocampus, cortex and amygdala.

Interview

Infographic: Uncovering the mysteries of mammalian brain development

Bio

Prof. Shubha Tole studied Life Sciences and Biochemistry at St. Xavier's College, Mumbai. After graduation, she went to the California Institute of Technology, USA, where she received her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. Her doctoral dissertation was entitled Surface Markers of Regionalization in the Vertebrate Nervous System. She did her post-doctoral research at the University of Chicago. Her current research uses genetic ‘knockout’ mice, RNAi, embryonic stem cells, tissue culture, and molecular biology approaches to address questions of development and evolution of the brain. Tole is committed to public outreach, education, and mentorship and has written several blogs aimed at students and young scientists for www.indiabioscience.org.

Tole has received the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award (2010), the Research Award for Innovation in Neurosciences (RAIN award) from the Society for Neuroscience, USA (2008), the National Woman Bioscientist award from the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India (2008), the Swarnajayanti Fellowship from the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India (2005), and the Wellcome Trust Senior International Fellowship (1999).

Scope and impact of work

Prof. Shubha Tole's elegant work on the mammalian nervous system provides deep insights into the complex processes involved in building the brain. Her work reveals genetic mechanisms critical to the formation of the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala.

Tole's work provides a solid foundation for future studies aimed at understanding human behavior, cognition and emotions. More importantly, her work also throws light on what exactly happens when things go wrong during the intricate process of building the brain. Disturbances in any of the developmental steps that Tole elucidated are likely to cause neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism and epilepsy.

The lack of insight into how various genetic defects impact the functions of these key brain centers poses a challenge for understanding the disease mechanism and eventually designing effective therapeutics. Therefore, her careful work on the developing nervous system provides a much sought‑after framework for understanding these disorders.

Citation by the Jury

Prof. Shubha Tole's award-winning research uncovers the genetic mechanisms that shape the development of the hippocampus, cortex and amygdala, which are the centers for learning, cognition and emotion in the brain. She discovered that a master regulator gene controls critical aspects of how these structures develop during their formative stages. Her work also elucidates the interplay of complex signaling pathways that control the formation of these highly specialized structures.

In her much-acclaimed research papers, Prof. Tole has uncovered novel links between the development of the evolutionarily ancient amygdala, and the evolutionarily recent neocortex, suggesting a mechanism for how the neocortex may have arisen in mammals. Her work revealed the mechanisms responsible for creating the ‘learning center’ of the brain, the hippocampus. She also discovered unexpected dual developmental origins of the mammalian accessory olfactory bulb that governs reproductive behavior and aggression. Prof. Tole is a dedicated mentor of pre-and post-doctoral trainees, an excellent science communicator, and has extended her service to science education as well.

Congratulatory Message From The Jury Chair - Inder Verma

Heartiest congratulations, Shubha, for being the recipient of the 2014 Infosys Prize in Life Sciences. The jury unanimously recommended that your work on trying to understand the development of the brain which has important consequences both for the normal functions and for disease has a very important and major original contribution. So therefore, we are delighted that you will be the recipient of this prize in 2014.