On May 10, 2023, The Royal Society, the oldest continuously existing scientific academy in the world announced its elected Fellows for 2023 (https://royalsociety.org/news/2023/05/new-fellows-2023/). Prof Rajeev K Varshney is the only Indian scientist elected as FRS in the year 2023. Currently, Professor Rajeev Varshney, is with Murdoch University (Australia) as Director of the Centre for Crop & Food Innovation; Western Australian State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre; and International Chair in Agriculture & Food Security.
This impressive induction will make Prof. Varshney the fourth Indian agricultural research scientist to receive this fellowship in the history of Royal society fellow selection. The other three Indian agricultural scientists elected as FRS include Prof. BP Pal (elected in 1972), Prof. MS Swaminathan (elected in 1973) and Prof. Gurdev Khush (elected in 1995). But that’s not the end for him, in this article we are publishing his interview to share with our readers what he aims in future and how he plan his future research objectives.
In January 2021, we published an interview of India’s leading scientists Prof Rajeev Varshney on the occasion of achieving h- index of 100 by him (now has h-index of 120). At that time, he was the fourth Indian scientist and first Indian scientist in agribiotech field who had h-index more than 100. Our advisory Board member Prof Pandey (his current h-index is 129), an energy researcher and biotechnologist in July 2020 became the third Indian after Prof CNR Rao and Prof Kayanmoy Deb who crossed h-index 100.
How did you find out about the news of your inclusion in FRS fellow list?
I was taking an evening stroll with my wife when I received an email from The Royal Society on my phone mentioning that I have been elected as Fellow of the Royal Society. The email also stipulated that I could not share this info until after the 10th of May. In the first instance, I couldn’t believe that the news was correct, but after reading it 2-3 times, I believed it to be true. My wife told me that it would be prudent to double check – just in case and that the email had come from the right source! However, when the Royal Society started to email more frequently to receive some additional info, I started to believe it. Eventually when they sent me their scheduled Press Release, further adding that I could share this news with my friends and family, I realised this was actually happening.
How do you feel after becoming an elite FRS?
While I feel humbled and honoured to be on the list along with giants and eminent persons in various fields, I also feel a responsibility to contribute more and more to Agricultural Science. We would like to see us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG2 within a stipulated amount of time.
I feel very pleased that I have received a huge amount of support from Murdoch University (from its top leaders, like Prof Andrew Deeks, Vice Chancellor; Prof Peter Davies, Deputy Vice-Chancellor; Prof Dan Murphy, Pro Vice-Chancellor), Research Development Corporations like Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC), HortInnovation, the Australian Council for International Agricultural Research, The Crawford Fund, Australian Research Council and others here in Australia.
Though I am now in Australia, I am very well connected with Agricultural Sciences- research and education in India through my role as International Chair in Agriculture & Food Security at Murdoch University, also, as alumnus of International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). In addition as Foreign Secretary, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences , India (NAAS), Fellow of all science academies- Indian National Science Academy (INSA), National Academy of Sciences, India; Indian Academy of Sciences, and Honorary/Adjunct Professors with Ch Charan Singh University (CCSU), University of Hyderabad, Prof Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU), and our MoUs with several organisations such as with CCSU, PJTSAU, Indraprastha University, Mahatama Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth, I have been keeping myself updated and contributing to various activities in agricultural science in India.
Are you looking next for Noble Prize?
Ah, I’m not looking for any such thing. The Noble Prize is not given in Agricultural Sciences, though I am aware that Norman Borlaug, an Agricultural Scientist, received a Noble for peace. However, I will continue to work for improving agriculture (including horticulture) for the agriculture industry in Australia, and for small-holder farmers in India and developing countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. For sure recognitions such as FRS and others provides a boost and inspires us to take up our translational research activities on a large scale.
What is your current position and work at Murdoch University?
I am leading two centres as Director and serving Food Futures Institute as International Chair in Agriculture & Food Security. The Western Australian State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre, a collaborative research centre for agricultural research organisations in Western Australia, provides a state-of-the-art platform for undertaking biotechnology research (including genomics) to researchers. On the other hand, the Centre for Crop & Food Innovation is capitalising on new technologies and investments in crop agriculture. It provides both strength and depth to undertake research on major broad acre and horticultural crops to improve yield, and quality and enhance tolerance and protection from biological and environmental stresses, and encompasses cutting-edge R&D in crop Agri-Bio, Agri-Tech and Food Tech.
As mentioned above, in my role as International Chair, we are working with international agencies such as FAO, IAEA, ACIAR, CGIAR, and The Crawford Fund to continue working with researchers in developing countries in Africa and Asia to contribute to food and nutrition security.
How will your achievements help India in the long run?
Science doesn’t have boundaries- we have clearly seen how different countries can come together and the research carried out on vaccines for example, that was developed in some countries invariably helped people in other countries. The same applies to agriculture. For instance, my research group is developing genetic solutions for improving wheat, legume and horticultural crops for a range of agronomic, and abiotic stress tolerance traits by developing and deploying novel genomics and pre-breeding approaches such as pangenomics, haplotype cataloguing and functional genomics approaches. These genetic solutions are not restricted to just Australia; they will help to improve the crop productivity of wheat, legume and horticultural crops…….
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