Venkataraman Jagannathan obtained his BSc (Hons) in Chemistry (1940) from Madras University, MSc (1944) from Indian Institute of Science and PhD (1949) from Stanford University under the guidance of Dr J Murray Luck. He received a Heart Foundation Fellowship to work in Dr David Green’s laboratory at the Enzyme Institute, Madison (1950-51). He joined the National Chemical Laboratory, Pune (1951), was Head of Biochemistry (1956-81) and retired as Director in 1981. He also worked at the National Institute of Health, Baltimore (1961-62) on biological oxidation with Dr DR Sanadi. He was invited to set up a laboratory for plant genetic engineering and worked as Head, Biotechnology at the Tata Energy Research Institute, New Delhi (1985-92).
Academic and Research Achievements: Dr Jagannathan discovered that phosphoglucomutase contained a phosphate group, which could be reversibly transferred to its substrates. His group discovered several new enzymes and purified, for the first time, enzymes such as brain hexokinase, acetylcholine esterase and hydrogenase. He collaborated with Dr GN Ramachandran, on the utilization of cellulose for the production of alcohol and protein. High cellulose yielding cultures were isolated and the complex of enzymes hydrolyzing cellulose was studied. In the field of plant tissue culture the contributions of his group included the first successful micro-propagation of mature teak and eucalyptus, virus elimination from sugar cane, propagation of elite cardamom, turmeric and other plants and hybrid rescue. In Delhi, he established a research group for plant genetic engineering with special reference to Brassica. He developed methods for protoplast regeneration, DNA isolation and sequencing for genetic transformation. His group also established a pilot plant for the production of 250,000 tissue culture plants of importance to forestry. He published over a 100 research papers. About 30 students obtained MSc by research and PhD under his guidance.
Other Contributions: Dr Jagannathan collaborated in the preparation of a policy paper for the Government of India on plant tissue culture and its applications. He was on the Editorial Board of the Indian Journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics and Elsevier’s Biochimica Biophysica Acta. He delivered a plenary lecture on plant tissue culture at the International Conference on Genetics in 1984. He was a past President of the Society of Biological Chemists, India.
Awards and Honours: Dr Jagannathan received the Distinguished Almnus Award of the Indian Institute of Science, VASVIC Award (1978) and Shri Om Prakash Bhasin Award (1988). He was a Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore and the Founder Member of the Plant Tissue Culture Association of India.