Three Indian scientists have won the first Tata Transformation Prize aimed at solving the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Food Security, Sustainability, and Healthcare in India.
Tata Sons and The New York Academy of Sciences announced the first Winners of prize recognizing and supporting visionary scientists in India who are developing innovative solutions to critical societal challenges in Mumbai on Nov 7.
The Tata Transformation Prize was established in 2022 by Tata Sons and The New York Academy of Sciences to support breakthrough, innovative technologies that address India’s most significant challenges
Three scientists were selected from 169 entries by an international jury of renowned experts for their innovations in food security, sustainability, and healthcare. Each winner will receive Rs 20 million ($240,000) and will be honored at a ceremony in Mumbai in December 2023, according to a media release.
The jury included distinguished scientists, clinicians, technologists, and engineers spanning six continents from a variety of organizations, including IBM Research, Indian Institute of Science Bangalore, Indian Institute of Technology Madras, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Public Health Foundation of India, and UN-Habitat.
The 2023 Tata Transformation Prize Winners are:
· Food Security Winner: Shilpi Sharma, PhD, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi
Prof Shilpi Sharma was selected by the jury for her work in the engineering of the soil microbiome using synthetic microbial communities, called microBIOme-based soil TRANSFORMation (BIOTRANSFORM).
Plant diseases threaten crop productivity and, consequently, the global economy. Unlike conventional farming that uses agrochemicals and synthetic fertilizers, soil amended organically has the natural ability to suppress a wide range of plant pathogens.
Starting from naturally suppressive soil, Shilpi will catalog the active microbial players and their mechanism of suppression of a range of phytopathogens.
Her work will be the first to map the natural suppressive potential of soil across six states of India and to harness this potential by microbiome engineering to facilitate sustainable agriculture in the country and beyond.
· Sustainability Winner: Purnananda Guptasarma, PhD, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Mohali
Prof Purnananda Guptasarma was selected by the jury for his breakthrough methods to degrade polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a common plastic pollutant, using enzymes.
PET is currently produced and used at unsustainable levels, creating worldwide plastic pollution and micro-plastic contamination in the air, water, and soil, as well as in animal and human bodies.
Only 9% of PET is actually recycled worldwide. Guptasarma’s enzyme-driven strategy uses engineered thermostable enzymes and reactions to demonstrate that solid PET can be broken up into its smallest molecular building blocks with high yield and ultra-high purity to enable PET’s degradation and recycling into virgin plastic.
Building on this proof of concept at the laboratory-scale, Guptasarma will further identify and improve enzymatic reagents and reactions for PET degradation and attempt to produce the best enzymes in quantities allowing pilot-scale PET-waste degradation and recycling.
· Healthcare Winner: Anurag Singh Rathore, PhD, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi
Prof Anurag Singh Rathore is a healthcare pioneer aiming to reduce the manufacturing cost of biotherapeutics for treating cancer and autoimmune diseases, thus enabling equal access to these top-tier, expensive treatments currently out of reach for 90% of the Indian population.
Rathore has established a state-of-the-art drug manufacturing facility with continuous processing that incorporates novel methods for real-time process monitoring and control.
Rathore’s innovation is projected to reduce manufacturing costs by 50-75%, making best-in-class biotherapeutics for complex diseases significantly more affordable for Indian populations in need and further advancing India’s position at the forefront of global medical innovation.
N. Chandrasekaran, Chairman of the Board of Tata Sons, said, “We are extremely delighted to announce the first cohort of Tata Transformation Prize winners and their groundbreaking innovations aimed at solving India’s national problems in the areas of food security, sustainability, and healthcare. On behalf of Tata Sons, we are pleased to provide these scientists a global stage to take their technologies from India to the rest of the world.”
Nicholas Dirks, President and CEO of The New York Academy of Sciences, said, “Congratulations to the first Winners of the 2023 Tata Transformation Prize. From developing new soil enhancements to improve crop yield, creating methods to make critical medicines available to all, and developing techniques to tackle plastic pollution, these scientists are making important contributions to Indian society and the world.”