Dr Pushpa M Bhargava, founder-director, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad
The decade of 1950s changed the course of history. The change in the paradigm of biology was one of the important constituents of the new directions given to history. Four important events that propelled this change were the coming of age of plant and animal tissue culture, the determination of the structure of DNA, sequencing of insulin, and working out the mechanism of the phenomena of enzyme induction and catabolite repression that was earlier documented in the PhD thesis of Dr Jacques Monod.
It was during this decade that some of us, trained in our country in areas other than biology, made a transition to biology. We were laughed at that time as biology was then considered a soft science which was fit only for girls! It wasn't realized even by our leaders of science during that period that biology was undergoing a revolution from being descriptive to becoming experimental.
On the world scene, the decade of 1960s saw the unraveling of the genetic code. That was a decade when, for reasons that I have just mentioned, the proposal of Dr Husain Zaheer (the then director-general of CSIR), based on a document that I was asked to prepare, to set up a National Biological Laboratory at Palampur (for which land was actually purchased by CSIR-land on which another CSIR Laboratory exists today), was shot down, setting us behind by a decade.
The emergence of the technology of genetic engineering in the decade of 1970s laid yet another foundation of modern biotechnology which was further strengthened by the discovery and quick commercialization of monoclonal antibodies in the next decade. And in India, we were able to finally convince the authorities concerned that various emerging areas in modern biology were going to play an important role in our daily lives. Terms like biochemistry, biophysics, molecular biology, immunology, genetics, virology and microbiology began to become a part of common vocabulary.
Consequently, the first laboratory in the country devoted entirely to modern biology, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) was formally set up on April 1, 1977 in Hyderabad.