Mukkattu Ramachandra Das earned his PhD in 1963 from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. He moved to the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad from where he retired in 1994 as a Scientist (Director grade). He was the founder Director of Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, Thiruvananthapuram during 1994-2001. Das also held the position of the Chairman of the Science, Technology and Environmental Committee (STEC), and Ex-Officio Principal Secretary, Department of Science, Technology and Environment, Government of Kerala, during the period 1998 to 2002. He also was Chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Michigan Cancer Foundation, USA.
Academic and Research Achievements: Das made contributions to the discovery and structure-function relationships of reverse transcriptase, and studies on oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes. He is credited with the discovery and characterization of a new RNase from human milk and its relationship with lactoferin, molecular biology of Indian strains of HCV, and magnetic resonance studies on biologically important free radicals. In collaboration with Professor Sol Spiegelman, Das’s work unequivocally demonstrated nucleic acid homology between tumour viral RNAs of avian and murine origin, and their host DNA, which preceded the discovery of reverse transcriptase (RT). They had also confirmed and characterized RT in several RNA tumour viruses and showed that the DNAs synthesized by RT in vitro were true hetero polymers homologous to their viral RNA template. They demonstrated that the enzyme RT, in addition to having the ability to use RNAs as templates, can also copy hybrid templates and DNAs, eventually unraveling the mechanism by which acutely transforming RNA viruses cause cancer in animals. His work at TIFR demonstrated that there was an inverse correlation between mammary humour incidence and the level of a ribonuclease present in human milk. In CCMB, Das’s contributions were in diverse fields. His group was involved in two major research projects, which included Oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes, and Hepatitis C virus. MR Das was closed associated with the setting up of Centre for Cellular & Molecular, Hyderabad and Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, Thiruvananthapuram.
Other Contributions: Das was a member of the Board of Governors, International Association for Breast Cancer Research (1983-91). He was on the Programme Advisory Committee of the First Meeting of Asia-Pacific Organization of Cell Biology, Shanghai (1990) and was a Member of Scientific Advisory Committee, XVI International Cancer Congress (1994), the National Scientific Advisory Committee, IUBMB (1994), as well as the International Advisory Committee, APOCB meeting, Sydney (1994). He presided over the Indian Society of Cell Biology from 1993 to 1995 and the Indian Association for Cancer Research from 1991 to 1993, apart from being a member of the Indian Association for Breast Cancer Research; the Society of Biological Chemists (India), Indian Immunology Society, Environmental Mutagen Society of India, Indian Biophysical Society, and Society for Scientific Values.
Awards and Honours: MR Das was given the Hari Om Ashram Alembic Award (1983), the ICMR Sandoz Oration Award (1984), the Sreenivasayya Memorial Award of the Society of Biological Chemists, India (1986) and the Ranbaxy Research Award (1987). He was also a recipient of the FICCI Award (1988) and the TB Patel Oration Award announced by the Gujarat Cancer Society and Institute of Cancer Research (1991). He was a Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, National Academy of Sciences (India), Allahabad and the Andhra Pradesh Academy of Sciences.
Indian National Academy Sciences has instituted ‘Dr MR Das Memorial Lecture’ in his honour.