Ananthanarayanan Chosen for 2021 WICB Junior Award for Excellence in Research

Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan

The Women in Cell Biology (WICB) Junior Award for Excellence in Research for 2021 goes to Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan from the University of New South Wales, Australia, where she is an EMBL Australia group leader for the Node in Single Molecule Science. This award is given to a woman or non-binary person in an early stage of their career (i.e., within seven years of appointment to an independent position at the nomination deadline) who is making exceptional scientific contributions to cell biology, is developing a strong independent research program, and who exhibits the potential for continuing at a high level of scientific endeavor and leadership.

“My lab’s research focus is in understanding how stochastic and rare events—such as motor protein binding to microtubules—are integrated in living cells to give rise to complex cellular organization,” Ananthanarayanan wrote to ASCB. “To this end, we employ advanced live-cell microscopy coupled with cell and molecular biology tools and novel image analysis techniques to decipher fundamental life processes including motor protein regulation, membrane trafficking, microtubule-coupled mitochondrial dynamics, and microtubule organization in health and disease.”

Ananthanarayanan presented the talk “Single-molecule imaging of cytoplasmic dynein in vivo reveals the mechanism of motor activation and cargo capture” during Cell Bio Virtual 2021. 

Along with her research Ananthanarayanan has taken a leading role in fighting for equity for women in science. She explains that the pandemic has been particularly hard on women researchers. 

“With the pandemic forcing most conferences to go virtual in 2020, it quickly became apparent how poorly represented women scientists were in Indian STEM conferences,” she wrote to ASCB. 

Together with Shruti Muralidhar, a research scientist at Deep Genomics in Toronto, Canada, Ananthanarayanan co-founded BiasWatchIndia “to document women’s representation and call out biased panels in Indian STEM conferences.” (See “Policy Memo: How Can We Improve the Prospects of India’s Women in STEM?” https://bit.ly/3r48V7V)

“As a part of this initiative, we have also undertaken a census of the proportion of women in Indian academia,” Ananthanarayanan said. “At the time of this write-up, this proportion is an extremely low number at approximately 12%. I am currently using the funds that I received with my EMBO Young Investigator Award (received in 2019 and non-transferrable to Australia) toward BiasWatchIndia’s activities.”

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Mary Spiro is ASCB's Science Writer and Social Media Manager.