Faculty Profile:  Getting to Know Kinjal Majumder


Please tell us about your yourself.  Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?

I grew up all over the world. I was born in West Berlin and spent my childhood in Durgapur, India, which is known for producing iron and steel (it is India’s Pittsburgh). I went to middle school and early high school in Sydney, Australia, where my father received his PhD. I then moved back to India to finish high school before coming to the US for college. I completed my higher education in Missouri. I went to college at Drury University in Springfield, MO, graduate school at Washington University in St Louis, and my postdoctoral research at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

As a child, who was your biggest influence?

My biggest influence has always been my father. He used to take me to his lab on weekends and holidays where his graduate students would show me their experiments. My father’s research was in robotics and artificial intelligence, so I occasionally got a chance to “play” with some of the prototypes. Those experiences taught me to approach science as an adventure and think beyond the factoids.

How did you become interested in immunology and virology?

I took an immunology course during my sophomore year of college, which first got me interested in immunology. I had just finished taking organic chemistry, and I was looking to learn more about molecular mechanisms, and how they control different life processes. I found studying the mechanisms of immune system development and activation exciting. We used to draw out the process of immune activation on giant white boards and on the sidewalk with chalk. It combined cell biology with molecular biology to show how we are protected from pathogens. Of course, in virology, we approach it from the perspective of the pathogen…figuring out the best way by which to subvert the host’s defenses.  It is constant a tug-of-war between the host and the virus, which I find fascinating.

Where did you carry out your postdoctoral research?  Please tell us a little about that experience.

I did my postdoctoral research at the University of Missouri School of Medicine in the laboratory of David Pintel. We worked on parvoviruses to investigate how they establish replication centers in the nucleus of host cells. We adapted chromosome conformation capture assays, (which are usually used to study how our DNA folds onto itself) to study how viruses localize to hotspots on the host genome. Many of these sites turned out to be fragile sites from where oncogenic translocations can arise. The Pintel laboratory is in the Bond Life Science Center at MU and is a good place to talk science with different researchers, come up with new ideas, and build collaborations. I am continuing several of those collaborations in my lab at UW.

What attracted you to Madison/McArdle?

My postdoctoral advisor, Dr. Pintel, went to college at UW-Madison, so he was always complimentary about the research environment at UW. I first came to Madison in 2017 to attend the American Society of Virology (ASV) meeting, which was held at the Monona Terrace Convention Center. I had a wonderful time at the conference and exploring Madison. I gave my first talk at ASV2017, which also left a positive impression on me. Even then I remember thinking that Madison would be an inspiring environment to work in long-term. My experience at the ASV Conference, combined with the vibrant community of virologists already here, made this an attractive environment to pursue long-term research in virology and cancer.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a new assistant professor/setting up a laboratory?

The most challenging part of being a new assistant professor is wearing multiple hats ─ researcher, manager, and teacher. I have to switch gears quite frequently, which requires a little acclimatization.

What is the focus of your research?

The focus of my research is to investigate how DNA viruses navigate the nuclear environment to establish viral replication centers. We started off with simple and small viruses called parvoviruses that, have the capacity to target cancer cells for destruction, as our model organism. Our goal is to expand into more sophisticated tumor viruses and investigate how they target our genome to establish sites of replication and oncogenesis.

For someone interested in your research, please provide a reference to one or two relevant publications.

We first published our studies of chromosome conformation capture assays to map where parvoviruses localize in the nucleus in eLife (Majumder et al., eLife, 2018). Subsequently, in a recent study published in PLOS Pathogens this year, we discovered that the viral non-structural protein is involved in transporting the viral genome to cellular sites of DNA damage (Majumder et al., PLOS Pathogens, 2020). Going forward we want to identify the cellular proteins that form the bridge between the viral genome and the host genome at cellular sites of DNA damage.

What qualities are you looking for in graduate students joining your laboratory?

We draw on tools from different areas of biomedical research to answer basic questions about viruses. To do so effectively, I am looking for graduate students who are motivated, independent, and creative. The Institute for Molecular Virology, where my laboratory is located, houses a tight-knit group of virologists who are very collaborative and do exciting research. Trainees will have the opportunity to learn about a variety of different viral systems and start to build a productive professional network.

What type of training environment do you wish to provide to new students/postdocs?

My research is interdisciplinary. We work at the intersection of virology, DNA damage, signaling, and epigenetics. Most of our experimental techniques utilize cell biology, molecular biology, and biochemistry, as well as computational biology. Therefore, students and postdocs in my lab will be trained in both wet bench experiments, as well as in bioinformatics and big data analysis.

When you are not working, what do you like to do (hobbies/interests)?

I spend my free time painting with watercolors, charcoal drawing, reading political science books, and cooking fusion cuisines. I also have a huskie who demands attention and has to be walked at least twice a day. Other than that, I used to play soccer every weekend in Columbia, MO before the pandemic started. In Madison, I am waiting for next summer to start playing cricket.