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Life at Nautilus

Interview with Ahana Dutta – Nautilus Scientist

Tyler Ford

Tyler Ford

September 7, 2022

Headshot and quote from Ahana Dutta, Nautilus scientist.

When entering the workforce, you’ve got to balance your ambitions, your need to grow, your hobbies, your company’s culture.… The list goes on and you might not always know exactly what you want.

Ahana Dutta, Scientist at Nautilus, was in this position when she started her career. She had an early interest in writing, but her parents encouraged her to go into bioengineering. This nudge led to a fascination with the sci-fi-esque potential of biotech and the thread of family, friends, and their advice continues to guide Ahana’s career today.

As you’ll learn in the interview below, it is Nautilus’ familial atmosphere and the vast potential of proteomics that motivate Ahana’s excitement to come into work each day.

Where did you get your start in a biotech-focused lab?

I worked with electronics in undergrad and tried a role in sales but did not get hands-on with biology while living in my home country of India. I filled this gap with a master’s in bioengineering at the University of Texas at Arlington where I worked to develop scaffolds to regenerate tissues — something that only seemed possible in science fiction. This was great because I got to study a whole bunch of biology, got to work on really cool projects, and it was this experience that really piqued my interest in biotech and bioengineering.

How did you learn about Nautilus?

I spent a few years working on protein engineering projects at Roche and moved up into a product development team. While I loved what I learned and did there, I really wanted to get back into ground breaking research after a role in development. A chance conversation with a friend who happened to be a Nautilus recruiter gave me that opportunity. He pitched working at Nautilus and, although he couldn’t tell me what the company was working on, he did tell me to check out Nautilus’ co-founders Parag Mallick and Sujal Patel.

I looked up YouTube videos featuring Parag and was really impressed by his unique ability to combine the perspectives of magic and science to make novel discoveries. I also found a bunch of articles about Sujal selling his very successful data storage company and discovered the business world was buzzing with rumors that he was working on a secret biology project with Parag. After that, I felt like I needed to be in on this secret project. So I applied and, thankfully, got hired!

What image comes to mind when you hear the word “proteome”?

When I was hired, I didn’t realize how little we know about the proteome, but I’ve come to see it as “a hidden kingdom of secrets” waiting to be explored. It’s the set of proteins that rule and decide everything, yet we know very little about it.

If Nautilus had a superpower, what would it be?

To look into the depths of any cell and see what makes it tick – to reveal the “hidden kingdom of secrets.”

What projects do you work on at Nautilus now?

I work with a small team focused on Nautilus’ DNA origami projects. These use special techniques to fold DNA into specific structures. I didn’t have any DNA origami expertise when I started, but I was hooked when I saw all the fantastical and useful structures that DNA origami can create – everything from smiley faces to “nano-cages” for drug delivery, to protein attachment sites on the Nautilus platform.

What’s your favorite part about working at Nautilus?

Definitely the familial and jovial nature of my co-workers. At Nautilus, you can do things like jump onto DNA origami projects even if you’re not an expert because of the supportive atmosphere. You can just walk up to a co-worker, ask for their help, and they’ll be supportive without judgment. Everyone is open and willing to share the silly mistakes they’ve made on the road to progress. It’s my coworkers who keep me coming into work every day even if I’m frustrated or feeling a little overwhelmed.

What kinds of things are you hoping people will be able to do with the Nautilus platform?

The platform is going to change science and revolutionize medicine. I have so many friends and family members that have succumbed to diseases that don’t have cures or which could have been treated if they’d been caught earlier. So I’m really excited for people to use the platform to come up with new ideas for proteome-based therapeutics and diagnostics. I want to see the Nautilus platform in every lab, every clinic and, eventually, every doctor’s office.

What goals do you have for your future at Nautilus and beyond?

In the short term, when the platform goes live, I hopes Nautilus throws a huge party. These always heighten the sense of family at Nautilus and provide us with a boost of inspiration. This is especially true when the team gets to see Parag do a new magic trick. We all really want to see Parag perform the classic trick of sawing someone in half (safely)!

In the long term, I hope to be one of the experts shepherding researchers through the use of the Nautilus platform when we roll it out. I’m motivated by the idea that I’ll have the best understanding of our product and will be able to leverage my expertise to help researchers do innovative research. 

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