Dr. Seema Prakash

Dr. Seema Prakash in her office in July, 2007
In some parts of the world, women are not encouraged to pursue an education or a career, much less in science or mathematics. While many females in India are still trying to gain access to an elementary school education and basic internet technology, others are flourishing in the traditionally male dominated engineering, science and technology fields. One woman, Dr. Seema Prakash, has not only attained the highest level of education in science, she has also invented a possibly revolutionary new way to propagate plants that has earned international recognition. While even she acknowledges that there are not equal opportunities for female scientists in India, Dr. Prakash is certainly an inspiration to girls everywhere who want to pursue careers in science or technology.

Seema Prakash was born on September 9, 1961 in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India.Map of India showing Uttar Pradesh Her father was a technical Manager in the textile industry and her mother was a homemaker. She has one older sister and two younger siblings, a brother and a sister. Her interest in science began when she was seven years old. She admired “The Lady of the Lamp,” Florence Nightingale, and wanted to grow up to become a pediatrician. While her parents and teachers were supportive of her interest in science, this dream was not fully realized due to the difficulty of getting into medical school. However, Dr. Prakash did become a “pediatrician” of sorts by caring for baby plants. Her hopes of becoming a medical doctor are coming to life in her daughter, who just completed her first year of medical school.

Seema Prakash received her undergraduate degree from the University of Kanpur, an all female college. There were only 10 other students in her field of study. She followed this with a Master’s of Science degree in Botany with a specialization in Genetics and Plant Breeding, also from the University of Kanpur. After receiving her Master’s degree, Seema married Jitendra Prakash and they moved to England. The couple had two children, a daughter (now 19 years old) and a son (now 15), and during the early years of her motherhood Dr. Prakash put her research ideas and activities on hold. While living in England she began her tissue culture training at Twyford Plant Laboratories (now known as International Plant Laboratories) and the University of Bath. When the couple returned to India, Seema Prakash earned a Ph. D. from Bangalore University in 1995.

Dr. Prakash began working on her invention in 1991. During her tissue culture training, she found that the production cost of plant tissue culture was very high and this made the propagation of disease-free, high-yielding plants available only to large scale and corporate farmers. Inspired by the Bob Geldof song “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” which raised money to fight famine in Africa, Seema was motivated to bring down the cost of producing these better plants so that small and medium sized farmers could afford them as well. Her vision is to, “bring together the latest advances in biotechnology with the best in traditional techniques to improve the lives of rural people in developing countries ” (DeChakrabarty, 2003). Due to the high cost of agar, the traditional medium used to culture plant tissue, Dr. Prakash tried several other less-expensive media including wheat flour and semolina. These alternative media did bring down the cost of the tissue culture process but had high contamination levels. When she tried using sterilized glass beads as the medium, she found that they were cost-effective and had low levels of contamination because they are inert to the plants themselves, the nutrients and the hormones (DeChakrabarty, 2003). This discovery led to her invention of Glass Bead Liquid Culture Technology (GBLCT). Using glass beads and liquid nutrients provides support, aeration and mobility to the growing plantlets, which results in superior plants. Dr. Prakash winning Global Inventor of the Year Award in 2003In 2003, Dr. Prakash received the 4th place “Global Female Inventor of the Year Award” by the Global Women Inventors and Innovators Network at a ceremony in London, England (GWIIN.com news, 2003).

In Vitro Office in BangaloreIn 1995, Dr. Prakash started a company to market her invention. In Vitro International Private Limited has its headquarters in Bangalore, India, and specializes in the cloning of high-yielding, disease-free agricultural and horticultural crops. They also produce and export tissue culture plants and provide large-scale propagation of plant clones from hybrid or specific plant lines. In Vitro International has 4 different plant propagation production facilities with a capacity of over 25 million plants. The company can propagate any type of plant, including ornamentals, vegetable crops and medicinal plants. The scientists at In Vitro International are also creating new plants from the unique flora of India which can be used as house or ornamental outdoor plants. As part of her goal to increase farm income, Dr. Prakash has introduced several new income generating concepts using true potato seeds, baby corn cultivation, tissue culture sugarcane and the production of first generation exportable flowering bulbs (personal communication, July 21, 2007). In 2002 and 2003, In Vitro received the AWAKE award in Biotechnology, the Rajiv Gandhi Shiromani Award, the Deluxe Green Label Achiever Award and a Pride of India award for their work with GBLCT.

Plant hardening tunnelThrough her company, Dr. Prakash directs research programs on Cost Effective Micropropagation, Bio-Fertilizers, Bio-Control, Bio-Energy, Vermiculture, Mushroom Culture and Conservation of Endangered and Medicinal Plant Species. She says, “these programs are based on principles of economics and ecology to ensure that the equilibrium between regeneration and utilization of resources is maintained, thus allowing a safe and sustainable technological development” (personal communication, July 21, 2007). She has also created the “plant passport” program to create awareness about biodiversity among school children. Her mission is to educate children about the plants that are growing in their own communities so that they will be motivated to preserve nature. In this program, students identify the plants that are growing on their school campus and then record the details of those plants in the plant passport. The students write down the generic and species names, the common name, the origin, the distribution and the propagation method of the plants they are studying in the passport. They are taught how to propagate the plants and are encouraged to distribute the new plants, along with the information in the plant passports, to various locations in their communities.

To realize her goal of applying GBLCT on a grass root level in developing countries, Dr. Seema Prakash also started a trust to disseminate the knowledge of how to use GBLCT and the materials for its use free of charge to rural farmers. Her Biotechnology and Eco-Development Research Foundation in Bangalore is working to take the benefits of biotechnology to the economically and socially disadvantaged people in rural and urban areas. This organization has also supplied tissue culture plants to the Grameen Foundation in Bangladesh. The Grameen Foundation has Professor Muhammad Yunus, the recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, on its Board of Directors and supports microfinance programs around the world.

Dr. Prakash, “advocates that women are more suited to Applied Biology-Biotechnology because of their ability to concentrate, create and care” (personal communication, July 21, 2007). She believes that Agricultural Biotechnology can potentially employ 2.5 billion women in agriculture and sustainable rural development work. She would like to see technology used specifically in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world to increase food productivity in areas that have not achieved self-sufficiency in food production.

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9 Comments

  1. brogans said,

    August 2, 2007 at 4:01 am

    Great background info and use of pictures!!

  2. Dr Shishir K. Srivastava said,

    October 19, 2007 at 8:04 am

    Respected Dr Prakash(Bhabhi ji)
    I am elated, going though your biography and feel proud to relate myself to you. You are really a blessed soul, a source of inspiration and energy to the world.Your revolutionary way of thinking towards women and contribution in the field of plant tissue culture technology by introducing glass bead liquid culture technology(GBLCT) is highly appreciable.Anything, written in your praise would be less to match your stature. Thanking you
    Truely
    Yours
    Great Admirer
    Dr shishir

  3. B.Ramamoorthy said,

    March 4, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    I am extremely happy to learn that Dr.Prakash has done something remarkable which will help all those engaged in farming and horticulture.
    This are areas in which a majority of Indians have invested heavily and their livelihood will no doubt improve as a result of the ingenuity of someone like Dr.Prakash.

    May she continue to show progress in her area of interest which will benefit the humanity and our own nation.

  4. Gaurav said,

    July 28, 2008 at 7:19 am

    Hello Didi,
    Remarkable achievements, landmarks in the tissue culture field. I believe this is just a start of the entire saga that will be hand written by you.

    Best of Luck for many more milestones you identify.

    Warm Regards

    Gaurav

  5. mukesh verma said,

    August 3, 2008 at 7:11 am

    good

  6. bani anand said,

    May 10, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    respected and my dear mami
    really i am glad to see you .

    wish you all the best

  7. NEHA said,

    July 15, 2010 at 7:19 am

    Helow Mam,

    I am Neha.I read your biography and feel very proud that Indian Women are shining on the map of world because of their talent and capabilities.Really you are a inspiration to all women who are struggling or pursuing in the corporate world.

  8. Arun said,

    September 18, 2010 at 9:39 am

    WoW!

    arun

  9. Anant said,

    October 11, 2010 at 6:37 am

    You both rock. have seen and met many people but havent came across with neone of ur stature who still believes that inner satisfaction can only be achieved when one help others. The most down to earth and humble people ive known. May GOD Bless u abundantly and you reach even more greater heights than this.

    Love and Regards,
    Anant


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