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Breaking Barriers: Dr. Chittaranjan Kole Defied Odds to Become India's Foremost Agricultural Genomic Scientist. You Need to Hear His Story!

He was honored with the Dr. Norman Borlaug International Agri Leadership Award at ICAR_NRRI, Odisha, India recently.

Shreetu Singh
Picture courtesy: Dr. Chittaranjan Kole
Picture courtesy: Dr. Chittaranjan Kole

At the 6th International Conference on Agriculture for Sustainable Development, hosted at ICAR_NRRI in Cuttack, Odisha, in January 2024, Dr. Chittaranjan Kole was awarded. He bagged the prestigious Dr. Norman Borlaug International Agri Leadership Award in recognition of his significant contributions to Agri-genomics & Biotechnology.

Currently, the president of the International Climate Resilient Crop Genomics Consortium, International Phytomedomics & Nutriomics Consortium, and Genome India International, Dr Kole is known as the "Father of Agri-Nanotechnology in the World. He also holds the title of being the first Indian to initiate plant molecular mapping, establishing himself as a pioneer in agricultural genomics within the country.

Such honors are a regular feature for him. The scientist has a long list of recognitions, including the ‘Outstanding Crop Scientist Award’ conferred by the International Crop Science Society in 2012 and other honorary fellowships from several prestigious national and international organizations. He was named as a distinguished professor in China in 2018. Further awards followed, including the ‘Global Agriculture Award’ in 2019, the ‘Honorary Fellow Award of the Indian Academy of Horticultural Sciences, and multiple lifetime achievement awards in 2023. 

A Humble Beginning

Hailing from a farmer’s family in West Bengal to become the Father of Agriculture Genomics and Plant Genomics in India and the Father of Agri-nanotechnology in the world, was not that easy. Dr. Kole started his journey by completing graduation in Agriculture and post-graduation in Genetics and Plant Breeding both ranking first in first class from Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya (BCKV), Mohanpur, West Bengal. Afterward, he pursued his Ph.D. in Genetics and Plant Breeding and 1-year post-doc from the same university.

In 1984, he joined Odisha University of Agriculture & Technology, Bhubaneswar as an assistant professor. From there, he was sent to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Eurasia for a postdoc in Biotechnology in 1987 by the government of India. There he researched Molecular Genetics and genetic engineering, specifically gene cloning, gene mapping, gene sequencing molecular markers, etc., and became the first Indian scientist to work on Agriculture or Plant Genomics.

Road to Success

After his return to Odisha University of Agriculture & Technology, Bhubaneswar, Dr. Kole established the famous Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. Later, in 1993 the Department of Biotechnology sent him to the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an overseas Research Associate. He worked until 1997 on the construction of molecular maps, mapping of genes, and comparative mapping and thus became the pioneer of Agricultural Genomics in India.

In 2001, he joined Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology & Sciences, Allahabad as a professor of agronomy. Later, he established the Department of Genetics and Plant Breeding in the university and became the founder head of the department. Later, in 2015, he became Dean of the Jacob School of Biotechnology and Bioengineering there.

Between 2002 and 2003, Dr. Kole also served as the first Project Coordinator at the Indo-Russian Center of Biotechnology in Allahabad. Thereafter, he then joined as a Visiting Professor at Pennsylvania State University in 2005 and Clemson University in 2007 in the USA. His expertise made him the Director of Research at the Institute of Nutraceutical Research, Clemson University, where he and his team pioneered Nanobiotechnology in the world. Their innovations resulted in a remarkable 128 percent increase in yield and a 91 percent increase in phytomedicine in a model nutraceutical crop, bitter gourd.

Acing the Way and More

In 2012 Dr. Kole became the Vice-Chancellor of BCKV. In 2014, he became the Director of the Regional Nuclear Agriculture Research Center at BCKV. Later in 2018, he received the Raja Ramanna Fellow of the Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India, and worked at the ICAR-NIPB, New Delhi.

Interestingly, he has authored 190 books on agricultural genomics and biotechnology, along with 30 book chapters and over 150 research articles. His contributions have gained praise from esteemed figures, including seven Nobel Laureates including Profs. Norman E. Borlaug, Arthur Kornberg, Werner Arber, Phillip A. Sharp, Günter Blobel, Leland H. Hartwell, and Roger D. Kornberg.

Vision for the Next Generation 

According to Dr. Kole, importance should be given to the original or novel thinking of the younger generation, and scientists should not be confined to a specific ‘mandate’ field, crop, or animal. The youth must be given the freedom to work on innovative ideas, strategies, and tools. He said, "You should keep your eyes on the sky, open your wings in the air, and keep your feet attached to the Earth." The younger generation should embrace new ideas with confidence, while also remaining grounded and respecting traditional knowledge and ideas.

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