Ananda M. Chakrabarty — Ananda Mohan Chakrabarty, Ph.D. is an Bengali American microbiologist, scientist, and researcher, most notable for his work in directed evolution and his role in developing a genetically engineered organism using plasmid transfer while working at GE.
Ananda (generally called “Al” by scientific colleagues) Chakrabarty was born in India on 4 April 1938. He attended Sainthia High School, Belur Bidyamandir and St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta in that order during the course of his undergraduate education. Prof. Chakrabarty received his Ph.D. from the University of Calcutta in Kolkata, West Bengal in 1965.
Prof. Chakrabarty genetically engineered a new species of Pseudomonas bacteria (”the oil-eating bacteria”) in 1971 while working for the Research & Development Center at General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York.
At the time, four known species of oil-metabolizing bacteria were known to exist, but when introduced into an oil spill, competed with each other, limiting the amount of crude oil that they degraded. The genes necessary to degrade oil were carried on plasmids, which could be transferred among species. By irradiating the transformed organism with UV light after plasmid transfer, Prof. Chakrabarty discovered a method for genetic cross-linking that fixed all four plasmid genes in place and produced a new, stable, bacteria species (now called pseudomonas putida) capable of consuming oil one or two orders of magnitude faster than the previous four strains of oil-eating microbes. The new microbe, which Chakrabarty called “multi-plasmid hydrocarbon-degrading Pseudomonas,” could digest about two-thirds of the hydrocarbons that would be found in a typical oil spill.
The bacteria drew international attention when he applied for a patent—the first-ever patent for living organism. He was initially denied the patent by the Patent Office because it was thought that the patent code precluded patents on living organisms.
Prof. Chakrabarty’s landmark research has since paved the way for many patents on genetically modified micro-organisms and other life forms, and catapulted him into the international spotlight.
Currently, his lab is working on elucidating the role of bacterial cupredoxins and cytochromes in cancer regression and arresting cell cycle progression. These proteins have been formerly known for their involvement in bacterial electron transport. He has isolated a bacterial protein, azurin, with potential antineoplastic properties. He has expanded his lab’s work to include multiple microbiological species, including Neisseria, Plasmodia, and Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans. In 2001, Prof. Chakrabarty founded a company, CDG Therapeutics, (incorporated in Delaware) which holds proprietary information related to five patents generated by his work at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The University of Illinois owns the rights to the patents but has issued exclusive licences to CDG Therapeutics.
In 2008, Prof. Chakrabarty co-founded a second bio-pharmaceutical discovery company, Amrita Therapeutics Ltd., registered in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, to develop therapies, vaccines and diagnostics effective against cancers and/or other major public health threats derived from bacterial products found in the human body. Amrita Therapeutics Ltd. received initial funding in late 2008 from GVFL, and more recently received a grant for a 2-year research program in 2010 from the Indian Department of Biotechnology under the Biotechnology Industry Promotion Program (BIPP).
Chakrabarty is currently a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. Apart from being an eminent scientist, Ananda Chakrabarty has been an advisor to judges, governments, and the UN. As one of the founding members of a UNIDO Committee that proposed the establishment of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology (ICGEB), he has been a member of its Council of Scientific Advisors ever since.
He has also served the Stockholm Environment Institute of Sweden. He has been on the Scientific Advisory Board of many academic institutions such as the Michigan Biotechnology Institute, the Montana State University Center for Biofilm Engineering, the Center for Microbial Ecology at the Michigan State University, and the Canadian Bacterial Diseases Network based in Calgary, Canada. Dr. Chakrabarty has also served as a member of NIAG, the NATO Industrial Advisory Group based in Brussels, Belgium. He is a member of the Board of Directors of Einstein Institute for Science, Health and the Courts, where he participates in judicial education. More recently, he has been involved in international judicial work, serving as a Scientific Advisor for meetings in Hawaii and Ottawa, Canada, organized by the Supreme Court of Canada.
For his work in genetic engineering technology, he was awarded the civilian Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2007.