This week we’re catching up with our 2015 Borlaug CAST Communication Award winner. Dr. Channa S. Prakash is the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Tuskegee University where he has served on the faculty since 1989, as a professor of crop genetics and biotechnology. Dr. Prakash’s research expertise is on genetic improvement research on food crops of importance to developing countries. His lab was among the first to develop transgenic sweet potato and peanut plants and conduct pioneering genomic studies on the peanut. Prakash stated, “My biggest moment in my professional life was when CAST called me to say that I had won the Borlaug CAST Communication Award in 2015! I had spent the past thirty years not only as an agricultural scientist and teacher but also in agricultural science communication. To be recognized by this stellar scientific society for my science outreach work was truly gratifying! I continue to do my science advocacy and outreach primarily through social media where I reach two to five million every month with Twitter and Facebook.”
Read through the questions below to learn more about Prakash and his studies.
What were your interests and background growing up?
I grew up in India during the 1960s and 1970s during the time of the Green Revolution and thus was drawn to agriculture. My interests were gardening, cartooning, and writing science articles to local newspapers when I was a teenager.
What drew you to your field of study?
I used to spend my summers in rural India with my grandfather who was in agribusiness and thus was interacting with farmers all the time. I was inspired to go into agriculture for my higher studies because of this. Once I attended a lecture by the great Norman Borlaug as a freshman in college studying agriculture. I decided to major in genetics and plant breeding inspired by the speech of this great humanitarian and Nobel laureate. I feel very fortunate to have personally known Dr. Borlaug.
What’s your favorite research? What spurred the study?
I worked on the genetic transformation and genomic studies on sweet potatoes and peanuts at Tuskegee University. As you may know, George Washington Carver worked on these two crops at this university. I worked in the same building that once housed his lab. When I was hired to initiate biotech research at this university, it was obvious to me that I should choose to work on these two crops and continue the legacy of this great scientist.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Plants don’t shout, they whisper – Borlaug urging crop scientists to work intimately in the field if they wanted to understand the secrets of their plants so they can improve them.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your daily life?
Covid has transformed my life just as everyone’s on the planet. As a dean now overseeing the education of thousands of students and over 100 faculty members, the pandemic has changed my working life, my priorities, and my daily activities. Much of my activity has gone online now, and I miss the person-to-person human interaction, plus the buzzing campus crowds.
Dr. Prakash has been a global leader in enhancing the societal awareness of crop and food biotechnology issues around the world for nearly three decades. He provides technical, societal and ethical perspectives on the issue through his lectures and writings and on social media. He was recognized by Huffington Post as among the Top 30 social influencers in biopharma and biotech. He has an active presence on social media, generating nearly two million impressions per month on Twitter (@AgBioWorld) and Facebook, and is globally ranked as number #1 influencer on ‘agricultural biotechnology’ issues. He also serves as Co-Editor-in-chief of a highly respected journal GM Crops & Food. He has been named one of the ‘Top Personalities Who have made the Most Significant Contribution to Biotech’ by Nature Biotechnology: Who’s who in biotech – Some of biotech’s most remarkable and influential personalities from the past 10 years and ‘one of the 100 Top Living Contributors to Biotechnology’ by The Scientist.
You can learn more about Dr. Prakash and biotechnology by visiting his website agbioworld.org.
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