News Releases

Professor Pathmanathan Umaharan to deliver Professorial Lecture

For Release Upon Receipt - April 16, 2010

St. Augustine

Professor Pathmanathan Umaharan, professor of Genetics at The University of the West Indies (UWI), will present his Professorial Inaugural Lecture on Thursday 22nd April, 2010, at 5.30 p.m. at Lecture Theatre 1, Block 13, Faculty of Engineering, UWI St. Augustine.

Professor Umaharan, Head of the Cocoa Research Unit at The UWI, will discuss agriculture in the Caribbean in his lecture, titled “Creating sustainable livelihoods within the agro-industry using the gene toolkit.”

The adverse effects of globalization, rising technology gap, devastating effects of tropical diseases, poor value addition along the agri-food chain, destructive effects of climate change and labour shortage are among many issues facing Caribbean agriculture. Agriculture in the Caribbean will continue to decline unless sustainable, value livelihoods can be created for the peoples of the Caribbean, using an innovation based approach. Professor Umaharan uses case studies developed around his own experiences to explore the possibilities of achieving this in the ‘era of genomics and biotechnology.’

Expected to be present at Professor Umaharan’s lecture is Professor Clement Sankat, University Pro Vice Chancellor and St Augustine Campus Principal.

Other interested persons are invited to attend the lecture, which is free of charge and open to the public.

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Prof Umaharan obtained his first degree at the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, his PhD at The University of the West Indies and completed his research fellowship at the prestigious Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. 

He joined The University of the West Indies in 1991 as Lecturer in Genetics, rose to the rank of Senior Lecturer in 1999 and to the rank of Professor of Genetics in 2008.  Recently he was appointed the head of the internationally renowned Cocoa Research Unit.

During his tenure Prof Umaharan has, along with his research students, worked arduously on the genetics of resistance to diseases affecting grain legumes, cocoa, anthuriums, tomatoes and hot peppers and has developed a number of resistant and tropically adapted varieties and patents. He has also worked on the genetics of tolerance to water logging, as well as yield improvement in the pigeon pea and hot pepper. His ongoing work on the genetic modification of flower colour and the molecular biology of flower colour in anthuriums can be regarded as ground breaking for the Caribbean.

Prof Umaharan has received several research awards for his work, notably the Principal’s award for best researcher in 2003 and the Caribbean Agriculture Research and Development Institute’s Award for Excellence in Research in 2005. Many of his research students have also won awards at the national and international levels. His work has yielded two book chapters, three monographs, 64 refereed journal publications and over 100 articles in conferences at the national, regional and international levels.

Prof Umaharan has, during these 19 years at The UWI, supervised 14 PhD students and 12 M.Phil students, all of whom are now gainfully employed in the region and North America. He was awarded the Guardian Life Premium Teaching Award in 2002 for excellence in teaching at the Undergraduate Level.

His efforts have gone beyond the laboratory and research facilities and into the realm of industry development. He established the Caribbean Anthurium industry development task force and is involved in the development of the regional cocoa industry development taskforce. He is also a member of the TTABA’s hot pepper industry group. In Prof Umaharan’s capacity as deputy dean he organized a regional workshop on Anthurium industry development, International Congress on Tropical Agriculture, and a well publicized AgriTECH expo, 2008. He has established a semi-commercial tissue culture laboratory for commercialization of the newly developed anthurium varieties and is hoping to develop one of the first spin-off companies at The UWI.  Some of the varieties of bodi, black-eye and pigeon pea are also being commercialized at the Megafarm in Chaguaramas. 

Prof Umaharan also serves in many National, Regional and International Committees.  He is the Chair of the Adhoc Committee on Plant Varieties in Trinidad and Tobago, a member of the National Biosafety Committee of T&T, the CARICOM Committee on Biotechnology and Biosafety, the Caribbean Biotechnology Taskforce and Hemispheric Committee on Biotechnology and the International Committee on Biosafety Education.  As chair of the Caribbean workshop on Agriculture, Prof Umaharan is involved at present in the development of a UWI policy for Agricultural development in the Caribbean.

About UWI

Over the last six decades, The University of the West Indies (UWI) has evolved from a fledgling college in Jamaica with 33 students to a full-fledged University with over 40,000 students. Today, UWI is the largest and most longstanding higher education provider in the English-speaking Caribbean, with main campuses in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and Centres in Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Christopher (St Kitts) & Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent & the Grenadines. UWI recently launched its Open Campus, a virtual campus with over 50 physical site locations across the region, serving over 20 countries in the English-speaking Caribbean. UWI is an international university with faculty and students from over 40 countries and collaborative links with over 60 universities around the world. Through its seven Faculties, UWI offers undergraduate and postgraduate degree options in Engineering, Humanities & Education, Law, Medical Sciences, Pure & Applied Sciences, Science and Agriculture, and Social Sciences.