Handanahal Subbarao Savithri obtained her BSc (Hons) and MSc from Bangalore University, and PhD from Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore for her studies on 'kinetics and regulation of mung bean aspartate transcarbomylase'. Subsequently, she did postdoctoral research at Purdue University for four years and worked on the 'structure-function properties of bovine enterokinase and virus assembly'. She returned to the Department of Biochemistry at IISc in 1982 and later became Professor there.
Academic and Research Achievements: Savithri determined the genomic sequences of several viruses and their strategies of expression to understand their mechanisms of infection. Many of these viruses were shown to be distinct species native to India. She established the mechanism of assembly of physalis mottle tymovirus (PhMV), sesbania mosaic sobemovirus (SeMV) and pepper vein banding poty virus (PVBV) by mutational analysis of the recombinant capsid proteins. The structure and function of viral encoded proteases and their role in polyprotein processing were determined for SeMV and PVBV. Natively unfolded viral protein domains were shown to regulate the protease function. The variability in the genomic sequences of monopartite begomoviruses causing leaf curl disease in tomato and cotton in India was established. Transgenic cotton plants resistant to cotton leaf curl disease were developed using antisense strategy. Diagnostic tools for detection and diagnosis of these viruses were developed. Studies on the mechanisms of replication and cell-to-cell movement of these viruses were initiated. Protein-engineering methods were used to unravel the mechanism of catalysis of important pyridoxal phosphate dependent enzymes such as serine hydroxymethyltransferase, threonine deaminase, acetylornithine aminotransferase and diaminopropionate ammonia lyase.
Other Contributions: Savithri was Chairperson (2001-09), Centre for Counselling and Staff Support at IISc.
Awards and Honours: Professor Savithri was conferred the Dr A Krishna Murthy Award (1977) for Best Paper published in Indian journal; Professor PS Sarma Memorial Award of the Society of Biological Chemists, India (1991); and JC Bose Award (2008). She was elected Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore (1992) and the National Academy of Sciences (India), Allahabad (2000).