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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI grad student earns international recognition
for research on genetic engineering of plants

KINGSTON, R.I. -- February 13, 2002 -- University of Rhode Island graduate student Chhandak Basu believes that genetic modification of plants is the key to feeding hungry people in developing countries throughout the world. His research to improve strategies for plant genetic engineering recently earned him recognition from several international scientific groups.

A native of Calcutta, India who now lives in Kingston, Basu was one of five students in the world to win an award from the Society for Experimental Biology to discuss their research at the Society’s annual meeting in Wales in April 2002. He received similar awards from the International Association for Plant Tissue Culture and Biotechnology in 2001 and from the Crop Science Society of America in 2000.

"These awards are important so he can get exposure to the international research community," said Joel Chandlee, URI professor of plant genetics and Basu’s advisor. "Chhandak wants to learn the technology so he can make a contribution to improving agriculture in the Third World. What he wants to do with his life and career is an inspiration."

With assistance from URI professors Albert Kausch and W. Michael Sullivan, Basu’s research focuses on using biotechnology to enhance certain plant traits. For instance, by modifying the genes for herbicide tolerance, pest resistance, and cold tolerance, crop yields can increase dramatically.

While the genes for these traits have already been identified, Basu is working to identify the best promoter to trigger each trait. "A promoter is what turns on a gene or triggers it to action," he explained. "The trigger that I found is stronger than those being used today, and it will amplify the economically important traits."

Surprisingly, Basu uses turfgrass in his research rather than a food crop.

"Turf is a model plant in the grass family, but rice, wheat, maize, barley and oats are all in the same family," he said. "If the technology works in turf, it will work in all these other plants, too."

Once he receives his Ph.D. from URI next fall, Basu plans to work with other scientists to lobby governments to adopt the technology. "I want to work to apply my knowledge in biotechnology to convince the government of India and other underdeveloped countries to popularize the use of this technology. I want to encourage the governments to teach about DNA in high school, give scholarships to study it in college, and teach farmers about it. My goal isn’t profit. Everyone should have access to this technology for free to feed the world."

Note to editors: A digital head-and-shoulders photo of Basu is available. Please contact Todd McLeish in the URI News Bureau at tmcleish@uri.edu or 401-874-7892.

For Information: Todd McLeish 401-874-7892

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File last updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2002

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