The Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB) had its humble beginning on July 03, 1990, as Centre for Development of Education, Science and Technology (C-DEST), an autonomous society registered under the Travancore Cochin Literary, Scientific and Charitable Society Registration Act of 1955 (Reg.No.418/90) by a group of well-known professionals and social workers for undertaking and promoting research, field studies, action projects, etc., The then Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi had kindly consented to be Chief Patron of the C-DEST Society. It was our pride that Shri K.R. Narayanan, who was one of the first Governing Body Members, then became the President of India. Other distinguished members of the first Governing Body of the institute included, Shri G. Karthikeyan [Chairman of the Governing Body and Member, Kerala Legislative Assembly], Shri Pandalam Sudhakaran, [Former Minister, Govt. of Kerala], Shri R. Ramachandran Nair, IAS, [Former Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Kerala], Dr. V.K. Sukumaran Nair [Former Vice Chancellor, University of Kerala], Dr. T. Navneeth Rao, [Former Vice Chancellor, Osmania University], Dr. (Ms.) D. Bengalee [Former Vice Chancellor, University of Bombay], Dr. T.K. Raveendran [Former Vice Chancellor, University of Calicut], Dr. M. L. Mehta [Former Additional Secretary, University Grants Commission, New Delhi], Dr. V.I. Subramaniam, [Former Vice Chancellor & Director, International School Dravidian Linguistics, Trivandrum], Professor Ninan Abraham [Former Vice Chancellor, Kanpur University], Dr. A.T. Devasia [Former Vice Chancellor, Gandhiji University], Dr. (Ms.) J.K. Pillai [Former Vice Chancellor, Mother Teresa Women’s University, Madras], Professor Muharjiri [University of West Indies, Barbados, West Indies], Dr. C. N. Purushothaman Nair [Former Professor & Head, Department of Commerce, & Dean, Faculty of Commerce, University of Kerala], Dr. K.A.L Narayana Swamy [General Manager, Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation, Trivandrum], Dr. Roy Varghese [Former Professor, Medical College, Trivandrum], and Shri Adoor Prakash [Legal Expert, Adoor]. Dr. A. Sukumaran Nair was the Director, C-DEST and Dr. R. Ashok its Registrar.
It was of great credit to the institute that it was given responsibility by the Central Government for grading standards of higher education institutions, colleges and universities in the country, an accreditation system to be administered through National Accreditation Board for Higher Education (NABHE), in the year 1990.
The institute was then renamed as Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Development of Education, Science and Technology (RGC-DEST), becoming the first institute in the country to be named after Sri Rajiv Gandhi following his tragic demise. It then became a “Grant-in-Aid” institution of the Government of Kerala on October 16, 1991. Realizing the potential and utility of services of Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Development of Education, Science and Technology to the state, Government of Kerala extended significant core support in the form of an establishment grant to the institute. The Government of Kerala reconstituted the Governing Body and Executive Committee of the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Development of Education, Science and Technology, in order to have more control on the management of the Centre with a view to bringing it under the State Committee on Science, Technology and Environment (STEC) umbrella, vide Government Order dated March 12, 1993. The constitution of the reconstituted Governing Body included Chief Secretary as Chairman and Dr. A. Sukumaran Nair, Dr. Roy Varghese, Dr. V.K. Sukumaran Nair, Shri K.A.L. Narayanaswamy, Dr. C.N. Purushothaman Nair, Seven academics/professionals to be nominated by the Governing Body, and the following representatives of the Government: Shri R. Ramachandran Nair, [Commissioner & Secretary of Forests], Shri M. Mohan Kumar, [Commissioner & Secretary of Finance], Shri K.V. Nambiar, [Secretary of Planning], Dr. R. Ravikumar [Secretary of Science & Technology], Shri C.V. Anand Bose, [Director of Nirmiti Kendra] and Shri K.K. Vijayakumar [Secretary of General Education] and as staff representative Shri S. Mohanan Nair, Programme Officer, Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Development, Education, Science & Technology. Dr. N. Hrishi, former Director, CTCRI and Consultant FAO, United Nations was posted as the First Director of the institute after it became the Grant-in-Aid institution under STEC.
Subsequently the Government of Kerala appointed a high power commission to study the feasibility of making the institute a full-fledged R&D center of the Kerala State. The members of this commission included Dr. P.K. Iyengar, [Former Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, and Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, Govt. of India and the then Scientific Advisor to Government of Kerala, the then Chairman of State Committee on Science, Technology & Environment (STEC), Govt. of Kerala], Shri V. Ramachandran, IAS, [Vice Chairman, State Planning Board], Dr. M.S. Valiathan, [Vice Chancellor, Manipal University] and Shri K.V. Nambiar, IAS [Member, Planning Commission].
The Expert Commission examined all aspects of restructuring the RGC-DEST and submitted its recommendations to the Government of Kerala, to begin an institution devoted solely for biotechnology and in areas of modern biology. The Government of Kerala have accepted the recommendations and resolved to restructure the institute and upgrade it as an R&D Centre of Excellence in Biotechnology under STEC with the required additional inputs. The Government of Kerala took the landmark decision to restructure the institute into a comprehensive biotechnology centre and thus was established the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB) on April 18, 1994. RGCB was the first research institute established for research and development in the field of Biotechnology, in India. Dr. P. Pushpangadan, Former Director of the Tropical Botanical Gardens and Research Institute was given charge of the Director, RGCB. Dr. M.R. Das, one of India’s finest molecular biologists was then appointed as the Director, RGCB as per recommendations of the Search Committee.
Rajiv Gandhi (August 20, 1944 to May 21, 1991) was Prime Minister of India from 1984 to 1989 and symbolized the new emerging Indian generation - bold, innovative and full of energy. He also proved that tradition is continuous and deep rooted. Like his grandfather, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister and his mother Mrs Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi firmly believed that science and technology was the cornerstone on which India's tryst with destiny will blossom. Science & Technology research and development also provided the backbone for Rajiv Gandhi's pet phrase "Mera Bharat Mahan" (My India is great). Always one to see the potential in India's assets he called the export of India intellectual manpower overseas as not brain drain but a brain bank which can be fallen back upon in a time of need and opportunity. India's position as an IT giant today was because of the path-breaking decisions of Rajiv Gandhi on computerization. He established the Ministry for Science & Technology and established five critical departments to oversee technology development - Biotechnology, Environment & Forests, Non conventional Energy sources, Scientific & Industrial Research and Ocean Developments. The results of these important creations are there for all to see today.
It was the vision, foresight and the untiring efforts of Mukkattu Ramachandra Das, one of India’s finest molecular biologists that brought biotechnology as a mandate of Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB). With support of the Government of Kerala and Department of Biotechnology, he developed the institute into a national center for research in the frontier areas of modern and applied biology. M.R.Das also held the position of Chairman of the Science, Technology and Environment Committee (STEC) and ex-officio Principal Secretary, Government of Kerala. He played a vital role in rejuvenating scientific infra structure and research development activities in the seven science laboratories under STEC.
Ramachandra Das was born in Tiruvalla, Kerala on 2 July 1937. Young Ramachandra grew up in an environment that encouraged creative freedom, and early enough in school he developed a love for mathematics and science and also a keen interest in literature and the fine arts. M.R. Das, on completion of M.Sc degree in Chemistry, in first position in order of merit from the University of Kerala, joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Bombay, as Research Assistant for Ph.D preferring science to a career in the civil service. He spent 36 of the most impressionable and productive years of his scientific life, outside Kerala, at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, at Columbia and Cornell Universities, New York, at the Michigan Cancer Foundation, Detroit and then at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology,(CCMB), Hyderabad.
During the period 1958 to 1969, Das’s research work concerned studies of understanding the geometry, structure and mechanism of interactions in certain biologically interesting molecules like quinines, using magnetic resonance methods such as Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) and Electron Nuclear Double Resonance (ENDOR). Das’s best known work, in collaboration with Professor Sol Spiegelman at Columbia University in 1969, concerned with the unequivocal demonstration of nucleic acid homology between tumour viral RNAs of avian and murine origin, and their host DNA. This preceded the discovery of reverse transcriptase. These studies were published as a series of three papers in August, September and October issues of Nature in 1970.
Das was an elected Fellow of all National Science Academies in India. He was a recipient of numerous awards, which also include Hari Om Ashram Award for research in basic medical sciences, ICMR’s Sandoz Oration Award for cancer research and the Ranbaxy Award for Medical Sciences. He was holding a Senior Scientist position of the India at the time of his sudden death on April 1, 2003.
Raghava Varman Thampan received his Masters degree in Zoology from the Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, in 1968 and his Ph.D. from University of Delhi in 1973. He did postdoctoral training at the Department of Cell Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA and at the Molecular Biophysics Unit, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
Dr Thampan’s research interests had its primary focus on research in molecular mechanisms in estrogen action, with emphasis on the structural and functional aspects of two proteins, the non-activated estrogen receptor (naER) and the estrogen receptor activation factor (ERAF). One of his major discoveries was the identification, isolation and characterization of the nuclear transport proteins involved in the nuclear entry of estrogen receptor α (ER α). Extension of these studies further revealed the role of estradiol in the transport, with the involvement of the proteins p28 and p73. His research group was the first to demonstrate that ER α degradation was mediated by estradiol dependent ubiquitination of ER α. Another ‘first’ to the credit of this group is the purification of the plasma membrane localized estrogen receptor, the naER, the first ever steroid hormone receptor to function as a tyrosine kinase. During the course of these studies it was observed that the naER, a glycoprotein, moves into the nucleus and gets deglycosylated to be transformed into the nuclear estrogen receptor II (nER II) which apparently has it’s major functional role in the nucleocytoplasmic transport of messenger ribonucleoproteins (m RNP).
During Dr Thampan’s tenure RGCB increased its faculty strength and significantly improved its infrastructure. Most of the current main campus construction including the student residencies was completed during his tenure as Director.