Getting to know us: Nishadi from Ensembl Microbes

This month, we meet Nishadi De Silva, who joined the Ensembl Microbes team in 2016. She’s responsible for the delivery of microbial genomes on our platforms. With a diverse background in computer science and bioinformatics, Nishadi is passionate about providing open-access to scientific data.

When did you join and what is your job in Ensembl?

I joined Ensembl in 2016 as the micro-organisms project leader. This means I am responsible for the delivery of microbial genomes through our Ensembl Protists, Ensembl Fungi and Ensembl Bacteria platforms. Over the pandemic, I also worked on the Ensembl COVID-19 resource and, more recently, I have helped with the annotation of gut bacteria. Microbes are a fascinating, and often forgotten, set of species. I have loved learning the various bits of biology that make them so interesting and hugely impactful in our day to day lives from causing devastating disease to assisting in environmental balance and food production.

What do you enjoy about your job?

What I love most about my job is the variety. In a week, I could be programming, writing a paper, teaching at a course and working on a grant proposal with our collaborators. I am so fortunate to work in such a diverse team and have opportunities to interact with equally diverse people outside of the EBI. I also get a huge sense of reward helping generate open-access data sets that are crucial building blocks in advancing our understanding of life, health and disease around the world. 

What are you currently working on?

I am currently re-annotating all the 32,000 genomes we have in Ensembl Bacteria using an improved software pipeline. We hope this will give us a consistent understanding of what these bacterial genomes are made of and also help us build a set of tools that can be used to add meaning to the thousands of new microbial genomes that are being sequenced everyday. I am also coordinating our annual training workshop on fungal pathogen genomes that is coming up in May; interacting with a set of enthusiastic fungal bioinformaticians from around the world is a great highlight in my year and I always learn so much during that week. 

A photograph of Nishadi (far left) and colleagues from Rothamsted Research at the 2022 New Scientist Live science festival at ExCel London.

How did you end up here?

I was born in Sri Lanka, grew up in Oman and ended up doing a BSc and PhD in Computer Science at the University of Southampton, UK. After my postdoc, I looked for opportunities around Cambridgeshire and entered the world of bioinformatics by accepting a job at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in 2009. I loved that my computational skills could be put to use in such a different way and, over the years, developed a passion for both the biology and the translation of biological problems into computational and data tasks. The transition to this job in Ensembl was the next step in my journey.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your / your team’s way of working?

Our team  has also moved to a hybrid working arrangement with some common days in the office and some days of remote working. I have been really pleased to observe how our communication and team cohesion has remained positive and intact. I am excited to see what the new era of working life will look like.  

What do you do when you are not working?

I like staying active, reading and spending time with my family and friends. 

Authors: Nishadi De Silva, Louisse Paola Mirabueno