Spring 2014 Newsletter | Biology | Marquette University

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Dr. Alapati Krishna Kumaran – MU Faculty from 1969 – 1997


Dr. A. Krishna Kumaran

It is by serendipity, a confluence of independent events, that Dr. A. Krishna Kumaran joined the Marquette faculty in 1969. In 1968, the Marquette Biology Department received funding from National Science Foundation (NSF) to expand its potential for research in Developmental Biology. In that same year, Dr. Kumaran emigrated from India and joined the Developmental Biology Center of Case Western Reserve University as a research associate of Prof. Howard A. Schneiderman, who encouraged him to seek an independent faculty position. At this time, Marquette University was recruiting for three faculty positions in developmental biology. Dr. Kumaran applied for one of these three positions. He sent a copy of his vitae to Jay Barr, a friend at UW Madison, who happened to be collaborating with Prof Ellen M. Rasch of Marquette University, on DNA content in cells. Dr. Rasch knew of Kumaran’s research on nucleic acid metabolism in insects and endorsed his candidacy. He was invited for an interview and was offered an Associate Professor position beginning September, 1969.


The three newly recruited developmental biology faculty members were to teach undergraduate level lecture and laboratory courses, and a graduate course in the field. They decided to jointly teach the courses with one person in charge for each course. Dr. Kumaran chose to be in charge of the lecture course, Brian Unsworth, the laboratory course, and Sally Hennen, the graduate course. This cooperative teaching lasted only year or two, before each professor took full charge of the courses. Kumaran felt that developmental biology should be taught as an experimental science, rather than mere descriptive embryology. Thus his Kumaranlectures included the progression in our understanding of developmental phenomena, i.e. the hypotheses and the experiments that yielded the current view of the development of the organism of the single cell, the zygote.


Dr. Kumaran’s testing methods were consistent with this view. He used short essay questions, rather than multiple choice questions to evaluate knowledge of the rationale underlying the experiments that supported or negated a hypothesis. In his opinion, short essay questions help students to enhance their organized presentation and writing skills. The objective of the final comprehensive examination, encompassing the entire course material, was for the student to gain an integrated picture of seemingly diverse topics covered in individual groups of lectures.


Teaching assignments of most Marquette Biology faculty represented 50% of their time; the remaining time was allocated for research. Before the end of Dr. Kumaran’s first year, he had obtained NSF funding to carry out research on the differences in DNA synthetic patterns in early embryos with two different types of early embryonic development- namely, the determinate and the indeterminate type of eggs. The next research grant was a joint collaboration with the other two developmental biologists and a chemistry faculty Dr. Norman Hoffman from the Chemistry Department (This may have been the first interdepartmental cooperative grant). During Kumaran’s tenure at Marquette he obtained several grants from NSF, NIH and USDA as well as private foundations. One particular grant was a cooperative grant with James B. Courtright of Marquette Biology department and Dr. Fotis Kafatos of Harvard University investigating the potential application of genetic engineering technology to produce female sterile insects in order to alleviate the damage caused by insect pests.


The Marquette biology department was awarded a five year Howard Hughes Undergraduate Biology grant based on a proposal prepared by Dr. Kumaran to improve undergraduate biology education as well as training local high school biology teachers on improving the quality of biological studies. For the first time at Marquette, faculty from the Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Biomedical Engineering departments were involved in the preparation of this grant proposal.


Dr. KumaranIn order to celebrate the Marquette University Centennial, Dr. Kumaran spearheaded the initiative to conduct a developmental biology symposium with several outstanding scientists in the field. This symposium served as a model for several annual Marquette symposia on various biological topics.


Dr. Kumaran served for six years as the chief editor of an international scientific journal, Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology, with its main office at Marquette. He also served as a host for scientists sponsored by the Fulbright Foundation's Czech and Polish Academies. During a sabbatical he volunteered as a guest lecturer at two North Carolina minority educational institutions in Greensborough and Fayetteville.


Dr. Kumaran’s most memorable experience from his years at Marquette was the kindness and consideration he received. When the department received a NIH Biomedical Research grant, the faculty unanimously chose him to head that program involving both the biology and chemistry departments. He felt honored and humbled when he learned the department organized a special symposium followed by a banquet in the last week of his tenure at Marquette.


After retiring from Marquette, Dr. Kumaran worked for a short time at NIH as a program director in the Minority Biomedical Research Support Division. Kumaran was a Fulbright visiting professor at the University of Philippines, and received an honorary doctorate from University of Madras, his alma mater.


 

 


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