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Dr. Savani Anbalagan: With zebrafish, you can just see what is happening

A Little Luck and Perfect Timing

Not his first choice, glad he came

Dr. Savani Anbalagan: With zebrafish, you can just see what is happening

Dr. Savani Anbalagan: With zebrafish, you can just see what is happening

Words like fate and destiny do not typically fit within the lexicon of scientists, however for senior postdoctoral Dr. Savani Anbalagan that’s precisely how he ended up not only at the Weizmann Institute of Science but in the lab of Prof. Gil Levkowitz in the Department of Molecular Cell Biology.

“Weizmann was not my first choice at all” says Anbalagan who completed his Ph.D. studies from the University of Milan-Bicocca.  He was working on DNA damage doing “very basic molecular biology stuff,” searching for something more challenging.

With only two remaining months on his visa he decided to take a gamble and move in a direction that would further his career. “I was looking for zebrafish and when you search zebrafish research one of the top things that came up was Weizmann.” Specificall, the Weizmann Institute of Science and the lab of Prof. Gil Levkowitz, who at that time had an article in Developmental Cell. Anbalagan took a leap of faith and contacted Prof. Levkowitz. One month later he was applying for an Israeli visa.

Although Anbalagan had previously visited Israel for a conference in 2010 he had never been to the Weizmann Institute.  Upon his arrival he was completely taken aback. “The first day, just the greenness of the campus surprised me.  You think, Israel − it’s a desert. And then you come to Weizmann and you’re like, wow, where do they have so much water to put all of these trees! Actually, it kind of makes up your mind.  Every day you come through the main gate and you are walking to your building, it kind of inspires you, subconsciously.”

“I really like working at Weizmann.  You are always on the top of things in terms of technology.” Such is the case with Levkowitz’s lab’s discovery of an on/off switch in the brain that regulates stress. Zebrafish are ideal for researchers because in addition to being less expensive than mice they also produce hundreds of offspring at weekly intervals. “If you want to study the system of development in mice you are going to kill the pregnant mother, take out just this small region of the brain then study it. With zebrafish the eggs are outside so you can just put them in the microscope for days and then you can just follow what is happening.” Anbalagan is using zebrafish to study the development of the endocrine system. He wants to learn what the pituitary glial cells are doing during this process and how neuron connections are being made.

With a new bride back in Poland and a baby on the way, a position at Weizmann doesn’t quite make for an optimal situation, but for Anbalagan it’s what’s best for his career. In such a competitive field, you have to show that you can be mobile he says.  “What happens for all of us in this current generation of researchers that they look for mobility on your CV.  So they look at your CV and ask: OK, this guy has just stayed in the same country forever? They just put him aside.”

For  Anbalagan, that means he’ll be moving, taking with him a rich experience the knowledge he gained in Israel.


Israel BDS – building dialogue through science – aims to promote the kind of international collaboration that can lead to true understanding between people. Israel BDS stands for the free and open exchange of ideas among scientists everywhere. By reporting on the benefits of Israeli-international scientific research and the web of connections that these scientists create around the world, Israel BDS takes a vibrant approach to highlighting the global necessity of continued international scientific collaboration.