This series introduces the public and fellow researchers to our talented scientists. We interview different IGI members to find out who they are and what makes them passionate about science.
Navneet Matharu holds joint appointment as Assistant Professor and Associate Researcher in the UCSF School of Pharmacy. Her research interest is focused on regulating gene expression to treat genetic disorders. Read about her IGI project on viral delivery of CRISPR tools here.
Where are you from?
I was born in New Delhi, India and did my education there. It’s relatively inexpensive to get a higher education in India, and admissions is based on several competitive exams, so it’s very meritocratic.
I moved to the United States in 2013 to pursue my postdoc in the lab of Nadav Ahituv at UCSF, and expand my horizons. I’m pretty adaptable and I never felt that I’m coming from somewhere else here. I always felt that science is very international: it’s about finding truth and truth is the same everywhere.
Why did you become a scientist?
As a kid, I wondered why I looked like my mom and dad and grandma, or why my grandpa has bald head — one of the mysteries of life! I was fascinated by how a kid grows into an adult.
It drove me to want to understand the rules that govern biology. I was interested in science because I always like to reason things out. When I was a kid, many people also thought that I reason too much. But in a profession like science, you have to be thinking every second.
What do you like to do besides research?
I love cooking. If you look at human evolution, cooking was one of the most important things that we learned! I like to pick recipes from one geographical location, or to focus on preparing one dish or ingredient in many different ways. For instance, in Turkey, an egg is made a little differently than in France. There are at least half a dozen ways to prepare a simple egg! I think it’s a different manifestation of being a scientist. I try to get perfect timing and perfect protocol. It took me a lot of experiments to find the perfect boiling time for an egg: three minutes, 20 seconds.
I also like dancing. It’s a form of expression, and your brain is coordinating together with different parts of your body.
Do you have a funny memory about working in the lab?
Once when I was working with mice and some of the mice seemed to actually jump up out of the cage and run it around! It was like a Tom and Jerry where I was chasing the mouse around.
Another thing is that I dream a lot, including about my work and experiments. Once in grad school, I was working very hard at getting a zebrafish facility up and running, and getting the animals to breed and lay eggs. One night I had a dream that my fishes were laying beautiful eggs in an aquarium. And when I went in the morning – and there were eggs. Things like that happened not just once, but many times, where I dreamed the outcome of an experiment. I consider all those incidents as funny!
What would you do if you weren’t a scientist?
I think maybe I would be a lawyer. I like to reason a lot. Or maybe a policymaker. I’m very interested in anthropology, philosophy, and morality, and I read a lot apart from science. Maybe any profession where you get to reason a lot!
How has science changed since you started as a researcher? What has been the most important advancement in your opinion?
I think the biggest change is the informatics and data science, which are so deeply integrated with science now. It was actually rapid change if you think about it, maybe within a couple decades. These techniques help push things forward by giving you the ability to look at things at broader scales, like at the genomics level. I think it is still a rapidly developing field, what we as scientists are still figuring out ways to process this huge amount of information and data.
Can you tell me about someone or something that inspires you like someone or something either?
Barbara McClintock inspires me a lot. She was way ahead of her time. She had this steadfast belief in her ideas when nobody else stood by her. Rosalind Franklin also inspires me a lot. Both of these women faced really explicit bias. They dealt with so many barriers — but if they could move forward through those tough times, maybe we can too.