Saturday, 7 March 2015

Archana Sharma: An Indian Woman Botanist, a Cytogeneticist, Cell Biologist and a Cytotoxicologist

Suresh Narayana Pathiki*, Pullaiah Thammineni**, Varalakshmi Dharani***
*Principal (Retired), S. S. B. N. Junior College
**Professor of Botany (Retried), S. K. University
***Lecturer (Retired), Government Degree College
Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, India

Archana Sharma
Archana Sharma, an Indian Woman Botanist, a renowned Cytogeneticist, Cell biologist and a cytotoxicologist, a founding editor of The Nucleus, an international journal of Cytology, was born on 16th February 1932, in Pune, into a family of academicians. 

She had all her early education in Rajasthan. She completed her B.Sc., from Bikaner and later joined the Department of Botany, University of Calcutta and obtained her M.Sc. degree (1951), followed by her Ph.D. degree (1955). She got her D.Sc. (1960) from the University of Calcutta specializing in Cytogenetics, Human Genetics and Environmental Mutagenesis. She had a brilliant academic career throughout and was the second lady to have secured a D. Sc. degree from the Calcutta University, the second oldest in India. She began her professional career by joining the faculty of the University of Calcutta (1967), later became a Professor of Genetics (1972) in the Centre of the Advanced Studies in Cell and Chromosome Research, and the Head of the Department of Botany (1981- 1983) succeeding Prof. A. K. Sharma. 

She was a passionate teacher and a dedicated researcher and a pioneer who developed new staining and pre-treatment techniques to study the structure of the chromosomes which are being followed throughout the world even today, and she also deduced the evidences of a new concept of speciation and fixity of chromosome number in obligate vegetatively reproducing plants, and this publication in Nature is one of her landmark findings. On the basis of the exhaustive analysis of the somatic chromosome behavior in a large number of monocotyledonous taxa, she elucidated the evidences for the regular inconsistent in the chromosome complement and also the participation of genetically balanced, but chromosomally variant cells in the new daughter shoots which gave rise to new genotype/cryptic species in the plants that reproduce by vegetative means. Her other important studies were related to the induction of division in the adult nuclei and the cause of polyteny in differentiated tissues in plants; cytotaxonomic investigations on flowering plants; and the assessment of the chromosomal and genetical polymorphism in normal human populations in Eastern India and their comparison with pathological conditions. She has also studied the differentiation patterns in human fibroblasts in relation to polyteny as a factor in ageing and the genetic polymorphisms in relation to the environmental agents on living systems. Her studies also include the clastogenic and mutagenic effects of various pesticides and metals on multiple test systems; the assessment of the genotoxic and clastogenic activity of the environmental agents in sub-toxic doses in exposed populations in relation to different modifying factors like diet, genetic predisposition and drugs; and the use of the dietary factors and plant products in modulating the cytotoxicity of the known pollutants such as the metals and the pesticides. 

She has published over 300 research papers and reviews, along with 8 books and edited 15 international reference volumes and special journal issues. Her book, Chromosome Techniques: Theory and Practice, is a classic in its field.

Archana`s pioneering work on the morphology of the chromosomes relating to the changes with evolution, diseases and mutation deserves much appreciation, and the scientific contributions of Archana Sharma were well recognized by many professional societies and institutions, received many medals and prizes. She has done significant work on the chromosomes of both the plant and human systems, with special reference to the differentiation and mechanisms of evolution. The new techniques which were developed by her have had a greater impact in the field of plant and human genetics.

She was a Fellow of Indian National Science Academy, a Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences (1977) and a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, India. She was the President, the Indian Botanical Society (1989) and the President, Biological Section, the National Academy of Sciences. She was the General President, the Indian Science Congress Association (1986 – 1987), a Member, the International Academy of Science, Germany (1990), a Member, Indian National Science Academy Council (1980 – 1982) and an Additional Member (1985 – 1986). 

She was the recipient of Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize (1976) by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research; J. C. Bose Award (1974) by the University Grants Commission, UGC National Lecturer (1980), Eminent Teacher Award (2005), FICCI Award (1983), Birbal Sahni Medal (1984) by the Indian Botanical Society, G. P. Chatterjee Award (1995), Sinha Award (1995), Women Scientist Award, Ashutosh Mukherji Medal (1999) by the Indian Science Congress Association and Padma Bhushan Award (1984) by the Government of India. She also has delivered the Platinum Jubilee Lecture (1989) of the Indian Science Congress Association. She also delivered a plenary lecture at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Chicago, USA, in 1987 on “Environment and genetic polymorphism in Indian populations”

She was actively associated with many policy – making bodies which include the Science and Engineering Research Council of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India; Environmental Research Council of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India; the Panel for co-operation with UNESCO, the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India; various technical committees of University Grants Commission, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Biotechnology and other bodies. . 

She published several books on genetic aspects of plants as well as human. Her book, Chromosome Techniques: Theory and Practice, is a classic in its field. 

Archana Sharma being very active till the last moments of her life breathed her last on 14th January, 2008.

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