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Jamshed R. Tata: Ace Biomedical Researcher Enters his Ninth Decade

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Jamshed Rustom Tata is alive and lives in London and shuns any limelight or publicity. He deviated from business and showed absolutely no interest in it. He is a biomedical scientist who enters his ninth decade on the 13th of April. Prof. Ashoka pays tribute to him, exclusively for Different Truths.

For those of my generation who grew up in India, the two surnames synonymous with the successful Indian business families were the Tatas and the Birlas. They had an almost ubiquitous presence in every sphere of activity whether domestic or professional. It was virtually impossible to ignore their products! The two families had some exclusive areas of specialisation; the Tatas were known as ace aviators. The Birlas were known to have patronised some of the very top educational institutions. They were deep into philanthropy as well. And Tatas had brought India on to the oncology map by their patronage of the Tata Cancer Hospital. It would not be out pf place to state that Tatas were the real pioneers of Indian manufacturing industry and the Tatanagar section of the city of Jamshedpur is an eloquent testimony to their farsightedness.

 

 

In the days we were growing up, the two Indian business patriarchs were Jeh Tata and Ghanshyamdas Birla.

Understandably the surname evoked universal admiration for their stellar contributions. In the days we were growing up, the two Indian business patriarchs were Jeh Tata and Ghanshyamdas Birla. The latter also played a role in the Indian freedom struggle as one of the major followers of the Mahatma.

After Jeh’s death, the Tatas were no longer the foremost business house in India, but they continued with their innovative spirit which was demonstrated by Ratan Tata who brought out the cheapest automobile in the world earning kudos from every quarter including the US President. Ratan was also elected a Foreign Fellow of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

We were all made aware of how Jeh built up the Indian aviation industry almost single-handedly.

Tata family’s contribution to India’s development has been immense. They collectively evoke a sense of rare universal admiration. We were taught about Jamshedji Tata’s contribution at school and I recall collecting a first-day cover when the post office issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honour. We were all made aware of how Jeh built up the Indian aviation industry almost single-handedly. Clearly, this Parsi family has made a very deep and lasting impression.

It would be interesting to pose a query to the present generation and ask them to name the member of the family they would regard having made the most lasting impact. Perhaps most would name Jamshedji Tata, the original pioneer of Indian business. Others may perhaps name Jeh (or JRD) Tata. The present lot of youngsters might perhaps find an icon in Ratan Tata.

In my humble opinion, there is yet another Tata from this very family, who made a very stellar contribution, which had worldwide ramifications and his overall impact was just about as lasting as any of the names I have mentioned. He is alive and lives in London and shuns any limelight or publicity. And most importantly, he deviated from business and showed absolutely no interest in it. He is a biomedical scientist who enters his ninth decade on the 13th of April.

Jamshed Rustom Tata was born in Bombay in 1930. A brilliant student, he displayed no interest in any business activity at all right from his early days.

Jamshed Rustom Tata was born in Bombay in 1930. A brilliant student, he displayed no interest in any business activity at all right from his early days. After a superlatively bright career as an undergraduate, he graduated from the Bombay University in biological sciences and proceeded to obtain his postgraduate qualifications from the Indian Institute of Sciences. Thereafter, he proceeded to Paris to complete his doctorate.

It was at this stage he became interested in a career in biomedical research. He spent a few years at the Sloane Kettering Institute and another two years in Stockholm before returning to London to take up a position at the National Institute for Medical Research where he remained for the rest of his professional career.

It was at this stage he came in touch with the great biochemist Rosalind Pitt-Rivers. The two of them collaborated and produced several books together. Pitt-Rivers had acquired international renown through her biomedical researches, which lead to the discovery of the vital thyroid hormone T3 which proved to be a major milestone in biomedical sciences.

The young Tata commenced his work on thyroid hormones and through his classic study completely overturned the accepted versions of thyroid functioning.

The young Tata commenced his work on thyroid hormones and through his classic study completely overturned the accepted versions of thyroid functioning. I distinctly recall our school days when we were all taught that the thyroid hormones worked by affecting the metabolic rate in the body. That was the accepted wisdom until this remarkable researcher through a series of very erudite scientific papers was able to establish that thyroid hormones had a direct effect on gene expression and did not work by interfering with the mitochondrial energy production as was popularly believed.

This discovery produced a revolution in the field of endocrinology. His work was feted, and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society at a very young age. The medical textbooks underwent massive revision because of this discovery.

Jamshed then moved on to work on amphibians and provided us with another landmark discovery. He was able to demonstrate that as tadpoles grow into frogs, it is the thyroid hormone that controls the gene expression which results in the loss of tail.

His later researches were equally noteworthy particularly the one in which he demonstrated that there are multiple types of the enzyme RNA polymerase

His later researches were equally noteworthy particularly the one in which he demonstrated that there are multiple types of the enzyme RNA polymerase, which served as a template for further pioneering researches.

All through this stage, he retained his unassuming persona rarely giving any interviews or making public appearances. had it not been for my own interest in the thyroid glands during my active scientific career, I would not have had the opportunity of meeting with him in a solitary occasion more than 30 years ago.

Those of us who have been involved in biomedical research would regard his overall contribution to be as important and vital as any member of his illustrious family. It is therefore a matter of some regret that a person of his stature has not been given the recognition that is rightfully die to him. He through his researches has made the word a much better place,

I salute this pioneer as he enters into his ninetieth year – and sincerely hope that we shall be privileged enough to greet him when he competes his centenary!

©Prof. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

Photos from the Internet


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