Dr. Raj Deepika Chauhan is an early career scientist with a strong foundation in Plant Biotechnology who has already made significant research contributions in critical areas affecting agricultural production in developing countries. She currently serves as the Lead, Monocot Row Crop transformation at Pairwise, Duhram, NC. She previously worked as Senior Research Scientist at the Taylor Lab, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St. Louis, MO, USA until November 2018. Dr. Chauhan received a M.S. and PhD in Biotechnology from the Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry in India, which was followed by post-doctoral research at the University of Pretoria and Sylvean Biotech in South Africa, and the Donald Danforth Plant Sciences center in the United States.
Dr. Chauhan is a uniquely skilled young scientist and has worked on plant tissue culture and genetic modification of a variety of plant species, namely cassava, Punica granatum, Robinia pseudoacacia, Terminalia chebula, maize, soybean and sweet potato. Dr. Chauhan was involved in the VIRCA Plus (Virus Resistant and Nutritionally Enhanced Cassava for Africa) project, which is of great economic and nutritional importance to stakeholders in Africa. The project aims at improving cassava production in sub-Saharan Africa by developing virus resistant cultivars while simultaneously improving the nutritional qualities. The development of such cultivars would enhance the income of small farmers while also serving as a reliable source of food to the population in these regions. Dr. Chauhan was responsible for the development of embryogenic culture systems for Cassava cultivars. She then utilized these protocols for genetic engineering, via Agrobacterium-mediated transformation of embryogenic cultures, to develop cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) resistant cultivars. Dr. Chauhan has also advanced the technology for Cassava improvement by using latest tools in genome editing including CRISPR/Cas9 for the incorporation of herbicide resistant traits. A major discovery during this research work was the loss of virus resistance to Cassava mosaic disease (CMD) due to the use of embryogenic cultures as a regeneration pathway. Dr. Chauhan conducted experiments in collaboration with other VIRCA team members to understand the reasons behind loss of CMD resistance in the naturally resistance cassava cultivars for this disease. She developed new in vitro culture techniques for regenerating cassava without losing the natural resistance to CMD, and also identified cassava cultivars that retain CMD even after passing through somatic embryogenesis. This was a very important development for the success of all cassava projects being conducted at the Danforth center or elsewhere internationally.
In addition to these major projects, Dr. Chauhan developed techniques to improve regeneration systems for cassava. She worked on factors limiting the regeneration and genetic engineering of Cassava in vitro cultures and discovered the presence of endophytic microorganisms that led to a decline in transformation efficiency and regeneration potential of cell cultures. Dr. Chauhan optimized techniques for the elimination of such endophytes, which led to a significant improvement in the transformation and regeneration efficiency. Dr. Chauhan has developed standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the protocols she has refined and made these available to her external collaborators worldwide. She has also been responsible for technology transfer in a big manner by training scientists from a number of countries including China, Colombia, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Vietnam. This is a major contribution to the field of in vitro biology as it has enabled researchers from these countries to successfully implement these technologies in their research programs.
In addition to her research endeavors in Cassava, Dr. Chauhan has worked on development of in vitro regeneration systems for several woody plant species including black locust, eucalyptus and pomegranate. These species are extremely recalcitrant to work with and need extensive optimization of explant, media composition and environmental conditions for in vitro culture. Dr. Chauhan has successfully established in vitro regeneration protocols that have wide applications in commercial micropropagation and genetic modification of these species. She also engineering pomegranate with the BT Cry1A gene in a local pomegranate cultivar to improve its resistance to chewing insect pests.
Dr. Chauhan’s productivity as a research scientist can be gauged from the number and quality of her research publications and presentations at professional conferences. She has published her work in prestigious journals such as Nature Biotechnology, BMC Plant Biology, Biologia Plantarum, Plant Biotechnology Journal, Virology journal, Frontiers in Plant Science, Molecular Plant Pathology, New Phytologist, Plant Science and Plant Cell Tissue and Organ Culture. She has also been a prolific contributor to the In Vitro Cellular and Developmental Biology – Plant
journal. The reproducibility of Dr. Chauhan’s research work can be evidenced by the fact that has work has been referred to and cited by researcher more than 350 times worldwide. Dr. Chauhan has also been a reviewer for several journal and was invited to be a guest editor for the Plant Science and Biotechnology journal. She has been reviewing papers for In Vitro Cellular and Developmental Biology
Dr. Chauhan has been very active with the Society for In Vitro Biology for several years. In 2017 she was nominated to serve as the Co-chair on the Plant Biotechnology section. Dr. Chauhan was actively involved in planning the scientific program for the 2018 and 2019 In Vitro Biology Meetings, and continues to be involved with planning the scientific program for the 2020 World Congress on In Vitro Biology in San Diego. TThis is a crucial role that involves selecting, contacting and finalizing speakers, keynote speakers, and poster and oral presentations. Dr. Chauhan has done an excellent job in maintaining the high quality of speakers and attendees while helping to significantly improving attendance at the conference. These activities involve a significant time commitment which Dr. Chauhan has effectively performed with dedication. In addition to her contributions to the planning process, she has also moderated a number of plant biotechnology sessions and served as a judge for student poster competitions. Dr. Chauhan has also serving on the SIVB Development Committee, and serving on this committee requires dedication and time to contact potential funders to raise funds to support the society and the annual meeting. These time-intensive activities reflect Dr. Chauhan’s commitment to maintain the high standards of SIVB and advancing its cause as the premier society in the field of plant tissue culture and biotechnology.
Dr. Chauhan has also served as a co-chair of CSTM (Committee for Scientific Training and mentoring) at Donald Danforth Plant Science center for past two years. CSTM consists of researchers who bring opportunities for career development and training at the Danforth Center. This involves arranging and organizing scientific workshops and trainings that benefit the members of CSTM. In addition, Dr. Chauhan is serving on the program committee for the International Conference on Next Generation Plant Production and Bioresources Utilization Technologies (NGPPBUT 2019) to be held from Feb 11- 13th, 2019 IIT, Gawahati, India. She has previously served in the editorial board for International Society for Horticultural Science symposia held at White River, South Africa in August 2011.
Dr. Chauhan’s research program is an innovative example of integrating theoretical and applied research, with a dose of social sciences. She has advanced the cause to better understand the links between Cassava production, the effect of viral pathogens on the socioeconomic conditions of marginal farmers in Africa and her research endeavors to improve the life of farmers and consumers. Her work is recognized by colleagues around the world, is novel, original, and interesting, and has had an impact both scientifically among her peers and farmers worldwide. She has used her research skills and training in the field of plant tissue culture and biotechnology to solve important agricultural problems facing poor farmers in developing and underdeveloped countries. In our opinion, this is the best way a research scientist can use the training and skills they have to solve the hunger crisis facing mankind in these regions. It is truly commendable that Dr. Chauhan has played a major role in addressing such critical problems for which her efforts are being recognized by the Society for In Vitro Biology. She is an emerging leader in the field of plant biotechnology who serves as an inspirational mentor to young women in the field of plant biotechnology while also advancing scientific discovery to benefit society. Dr. Raj Deepika Chauhan serves as a positive role model for women in STEM fields and she promotes the involvement of future students in in vitro biology.
Dr. Sadanand Dhekney, Associate Professor, University of Maryland Eastern Shore
Dr. Dharam Sharma, Lead scientist, New Crops, Dry Creek Laboratories/Duarte Nursery