First Person is a series of interviews with the first authors of a selection of papers published in Journal of Cell Science, helping researchers promote themselves alongside their papers. Akshay Vishwanatha is first author on ‘Altered cohesin dynamics and histone H3K9 modifications contribute to mitotic defects in the cbf11Δ lipid metabolism mutant’, published in JCS. Akshay conducted the research described in this article while a Postdoctoral Associate in Martin Převorovský's lab at Charles University, Czech Republic. He is now a Postdoc in the lab of Laura Kirkman at Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell, New York, USA. As a molecular cell biologist, he is fascinated by the intricacies of the less-explored facets that impact genome integrity, cell cycle dynamics and DNA repair mechanisms.

Akshay Vishwanatha

How would you explain the main findings of your paper in lay terms?

During cell division, genetic information in the nucleus needs to be evenly distributed to the daughter cells for healthy growth and development. Some fungi, like the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe, have a unique way of dividing without breaking down the nucleus. Researchers have found that disruptions in the way these fungi handle fats and oils can cause problems during cell division. This can lead to what's called the ‘cut’ phenotype, where the cells don't divide properly. In this study, we looked at a specific gene called cbf11, which helps regulate fat and oil processing in these fungi. We found that when this gene was missing, yeast cells had problems with early stages of cell division even before the nucleus expanded. We also discovered changes in the way certain proteins interacted with DNA, which might be another factor causing cell division problems. Overall, this research gives us new insights into how cells divide and distribute genetic information and could be useful in developing treatments for diseases caused by cell division problems.

Were there any specific challenges associated with this project? If so, how did you overcome them?

Working with cbf11 mutants has been challenging as they display erratic behavior, making it difficult to conduct experiments aimed at understanding the gene's role in maintaining cell cycle and genome integrity. Despite our efforts, many of the experiments failed to yield conclusive results due to the unpredictable nature of this mutant. Our breakthrough came when we began observing live dividing cells using microscopy, which allowed us to identify the extent of cellular dysfunction.

When doing the research, did you have a particular result or ‘eureka’ moment that has stuck with you?

Upon conducting live-cell microscopy to observe cell division, particularly during mitosis, I was struck by the extent of defects in the cbf11 mutant. The range of issues I observed included problems with spindle formation, the timing of mitosis, assembly of the spindle, segregation of the nucleus and potentially impaired nuclear envelope expansion. These all illuminated the critical role of this gene in multiple cellular mechanisms. I was astonished by the vital role this gene plays in ensuring cell survival and it opened new doors to further explore its functions.

Nuclear defect in cbf11Δ S. pombe cells. The spindle (magenta) buckling under the pressure of dividing nucleus (cyan), failing to divide and mis-segregating. We explore the underlying causes for this defect in our study.

Nuclear defect in cbf11Δ S. pombe cells. The spindle (magenta) buckling under the pressure of dividing nucleus (cyan), failing to divide and mis-segregating. We explore the underlying causes for this defect in our study.

Why did you choose Journal of Cell Science for your paper?

Our research aligns well with the scope of the Journal of Cell Science, which seeks to offer fresh insights for future exploration in cell biology, appealing to a broad readership. Our paper delves into the complexities of the cell cycle and mitosis, as well as the overall cellular health, shedding light on the numerous pathways influenced by the cbf11 gene. These findings have the potential to pave the way for many future studies exploring the multifaceted functions of this gene.

Have you had any significant mentors who have helped you beyond supervision in the lab? How was their guidance special?

I had the privilege of working under the guidance of Dr Martin Převorovský, who was an exceptional mentor and guide. He not only made our interactions fun and enjoyable but also imparted valuable knowledge that has shaped my scientific outlook. His mentorship extended beyond research activities, as he provided insightful inputs on various aspects of academia, including writing papers, cover letters and resumes, which have proven to be incredibly helpful. I am grateful for his unwavering support and guidance throughout my academic journey.

What motivated you to pursue a career in science, and what have been the most interesting moments on the path that led you to where you are now?

Ever since my school days, science has always been a subject of fascination for me. Biology was more than just a subject – it was a hobby. I would spend hours peering through a microscope, examining microbes in pond water, cells in plant parts and insects, among other things. As I progressed through my academic journey, my interests in genome and cellular integrity deepened, and I found myself helping establish a molecular biology lab from scratch during my PhD studies under the guidance of Prof. Martin Ernst Schweingruber. This experience instilled in me invaluable management skills and a sense of independence. My passion for exploring genome integrity ultimately led me to study the cbf11 gene, and since then, I have continued to delve into this field. Currently, I am working on DNA repair mechanisms in the human malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, and it never ceases to amaze me how different organisms employ unique cellular mechanisms to overcome unfavorable conditions.

Tell us something interesting about yourself that wouldn't be on your CV

As an individual with a passion for storytelling, I find myself constantly seeking out narratives that stimulate my mind and capture my imagination. When I'm not working in the lab, I immerse myself in various forms of media, such as books, news articles, movies, documentaries and blogs, all of which expose me to new and exciting perspectives. Additionally, I have a keen interest in travel, particularly in learning about the history and culture of the places I visit, which always leaves me with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the world around us.

Akshay Vishwanatha’s contact details: 1300 York Avenue, New York, NY 10065, USA. E-mail:

Altered cohesin dynamics and histone H3K9 modifications contribute to mitotic defects in the cbf11Δ lipid metabolism mutant
J. Cell Sci.