Sarala Karumuri Subbarao received her BSc and MSc degrees from Osmania University, Hyderabad, and PhD (Genetics) (1973) from the University of Illinois under the supervision of Professor John R Laughnan, where she showed the heterochromatic nature of the spontaneously occurring break-sites in Drosophila melanogaster strains. Thereafters, she joined as Insect Geneticist (1974) in the WHO/ICMR project at New Delhi on Genetic Control of Mosquitoes. In 1975, she joined Malaria Research Centre (MRC), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), where she rendered 29 years of service and retired as its Director (2003).
Academic and Research Achievements: Dr Subbarao had keen interest in research on malaria and focused on biology of malaria vectors and parasites and epidemiology of malaria which was also extended to other mosquito-borne diseases. In Culex quinquefasciatus mosquito, variation in cytoplasmic types was demonstrated for the first time. This finding has consequences in using cytoplasmic incompatibility as a tool in the genetic control of mosquitoes. She established genetic maps of markers and also genetic and biochemical basis of insecticide resistance in malaria vectors. In the 1980s and thereafter, she focused on recognizing malaria vectors as species complexes, developing diagnostic assays to identify sibling species which are morphologically similar, mapping the distribution of sibling species, and establishing biological differences of the sibling species. Identification of sibling species not only enriched Indian anopheline fauna, it also helped to develop an effective control strategy against Anopheles culicifacies and An. fluviatilis which transmit 75-80% malaria in the country. These researches provided a new dimension to malaria epidemiology and control. She guided ten students for their PhD and also authored two books and 140 papers.
Other Contributions: As Director, Dr Subbarao gave strong impetus to research in molecular biology, encouraged the use of RS and GIS technologies, development of herbal products against vectors and parasites, and drug trials and initiated site development for vaccine trial. In Sri Lanka and Indonesia, she worked as WHO short-term consultant. She also served on many Expert/Advisory committees of the WHO, ICMR institutes, DBT, DST and DRDO.
Awards and Honours: Dr Subbarao was recipient of Dr MOT Iyengar Memorial Award for Malaria Research by ICMR and Best Scientist Award for research on Environmental Aspects of Vector Borne Diseases by the National Academy of Vector Borne Diseases Society. She was elected Fellow of the Indian Society for Malaria and other Communicable Diseases, and National Academy of Sciences (India), Allahabad.