Getting to know us: Swati from Ensembl Genebuild

We are back with our Getting to know us (a.k.a. Teamsembl) blog series after a short hiatus in March. For the month of April, we got the chance to Swati Sinha who is a senior bioinformatician in the Ensembl Genebuild team. The Genebuild team is in charge of the Ensembl automatic annotation pipeline. Read all about Swati and have a look at the amazing photographs she has taken during her travels.

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

I joined Ensembl in August 2022 as a Senior Bionformatician. Despite the ongoing prevalence of remote work then, I made the conscious decision to relocate from Singapore to the UK to be a part of an outstanding team for an in-person experience. This transition marked a pivotal moment for me, both personally and professionally. Within Ensembl, I am a member of the Genebuild team that focuses on generating evidence-based genome annotations using data from various global biodiversity projects and from user requests. My responsibilities revolve around the continual refinement and implementation of Ensembl’s annotation pipelines. This involves a constant commitment to improve our codebase and embracing emerging knowledge and technologies to ensure the accuracy and completeness of our genomic annotations.

What do you think sets Ensembl apart from other bioinformatics resources?

I believe there are several reasons why Ensembl stands out among other bioinformatics resources.  Firstly, its comprehensive and regularly updated database provides a wealth of genomic data in various research areas including genome annotations, comparative genomics, sequence evolution variation and regulation, covering a wide range of species. This breadth and depth of information make it a valuable resource for researchers across various fields. Additionally, Ensembl offers user-friendly tools and interfaces that facilitate data exploration, visualisation, and analysis. Whether users are seasoned bioinformaticians or newcomers to the field, Ensembl’s intuitive interfaces make it accessible and easy to use. Moreover, Ensembl emphasises collaboration and community engagement by actively providing users with training in the Ensembl browser and REST APIs to fetch data for their research work This collaborative approach fosters a sense of community among researchers and promotes knowledge sharing and exchange.

A photograph of Swati in York, UK.

What did you do before joining Ensembl?

Before joining Ensembl, I earned my Ph.D. in Computational Biology and Bioinformatics from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, a distinguished research institution in India. My research primarily focused on advancing methods for accurately identifying protein function, employing both homology and non-homology-based approaches. During my academic journey, I had the privilege of working as a visiting student intern at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA, for six months, followed by another six-month stint at the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research, A*STAR’s Bioinformatics Institute (BII) in Singapore. These experiences paved the way for a Postdoctoral Fellowship at BII immediately after completing my Ph.D. With six years of professional experience dedicated to gene function discovery and genome annotation, I seized the opportunity to join the esteemed team at Ensembl, a renowned institution known for its pioneering work in genomics research and data analysis.

What is your favourite thing about working at EMBL-EBI?

EMBL-EBI, an intergovernmental organisation dedicated to bioinformatics research and services, offers an outstanding work environment. While there are numerous aspects of my work here that I find rewarding, one that particularly stands out is the collaborative team atmosphere, characterised by experts from various fields. This environment provides an exceptional opportunity not only to develop and refine my own skills but also to engage in continuous learning from colleagues across diverse disciplines. Additionally, being part of such a dynamic and innovative institution allows me to contribute meaningfully to cutting-edge research and advancements in the field of bioinformatics.

If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?

If I were able to engage in conversation with a historical figure, I would choose Marie Curie. Her pioneering contributions to science, particularly in the field of radioactivity, have left an indelible mark on the scientific community. I would be keen to discuss her groundbreaking research, the challenges she faced as a woman in a male-dominated field, and her relentless pursuit of knowledge. Furthermore, exploring her views on the intersection of science and society, as well as her experiences as the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, would provide valuable insights. Marie Curie’s legacy not only shaped the field of physics and chemistry but also paved the way for future generations of women in science. A conversation with her would undoubtedly offer a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a brilliant scientist and a trailblazer for women in STEM.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Outside of work, I find joy in travelling, photography and sports. My interest in sports began at a young age when I started playing basketball in high school. However, due to concerns about academic performance, I was unable to pursue it further. Nevertheless, my passion for sports remained strong, leading me to participate in athletics during my college years. I achieved success in college tournaments, particularly in shot put and hammer throw, earning numerous medals. After college, I shifted my focus to badminton, a sport I continue to enjoy to this day. During my postdoctoral tenure, I even participated in and won many badminton tournaments in Singapore, excelling in both mixed doubles and women’s doubles categories. I maintain my commitment to badminton by regularly participating in badminton games both on campus and in Cambridge. I have a strong interest in running as well. I’ve participated in two half marathons and in numerous 10k and 5k runs. However, there was a considerable hiatus until recently when I resumed running, primarily through Cambridge 5K park runs.

In addition to sports, travelling and photography is a significant passion of mine. I particularly enjoy capturing nature scenes, street life, and portraits during my travels. I take pleasure in sharing my photographic journey, showcasing images captured from all around the globe.