Establishing scientific exchange and collaboration on crop science between Rothamsted Research and the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka

Lead Research Organisation: Rothamsted Research
Department Name: Plant Biology & Crop Science


Sri Lanka


10 25 50
Description The objectives of the project were:
• To establish scientific exchange and collaboration on crop science between Rothamsted Research and the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, exploiting the overlapping research themes of the BBSRC's and the University of Colombo's strategic priority areas of crop improvement and protection.

• To establish a network of contacts within other Sri Lankan plant research institutes, including the Sugarcane, Tea, Coconut and Rubber Research Institutes of Sri Lanka and The International Rice Research Institute.

• To follow up the visit with an application for a scientist from the University of Colombo to visit the UK under the auspices of the Rothamsted International Fellowship scheme.

Prior to leaving for Sri Lanka, Dr Muttucumaru liased closely with Dr Anil Jayasekera, a senior lecturer at the University of Colombo, to establish an itinerary for meetings with senior faculty members of the University of Colombo, members of The Institute of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IBMBB), which is affiliated to the University of Colombo, senior staff of other Sri Lankan plant research institutes, and representatives of Sri Lankan biotechnology companies. Prior to her visit, Dr Muttucumaru also arranged a meeting with Professor Sirimali Fernando, the Chairperson of the National Science Foundation (NSF) of Sri Lanka, a government-funded body responsible for the promotion of research and development in academia. This rare chance to meet with Professor Fernando was arranged through Dr S. A. V. Moorthy, a scientific officer at the NSF, and approved after Dr Muttucumaru wrote an introductory piece regarding the purpose of her visit.
Dr Muttucumaru's visit was a successful one and achieved its objectives. Shortly after her arrival she made a presentation to the Plant Sciences Faculty at the University of Colombo which was very well received by the audience, which included senior staff members as well as under-graduate and post-graduate students. Following her presentation she was requested to give an 'inspirational' talk to special degree students; students who are outstanding achievers in their chosen field of study. This session gave Dr Muttucumaru an insight into the ability and enthusiasm that these students have for science and how the students viewed their future in post-war Sri Lanka. She felt that she and the students gained a great deal from this very enjoyable session.

It was Dr Muttucumaru's intention to visit some of the other plant research institutes in Sri Lanka, namely the Sugarcane, Coconut and Rubber Research Institutes. However, Dr Muttucumaru was advised by Dr Anil Jayasekera, who had contacted the heads of these institutes on her behalf, that they did not have any on-going or established research programmes in place. The meeting scheduled to take place between Dr Muttucumaru and the Director of the Rice Research Institute had to be cancelled as he was requested, at short notice, to accompany the President of Sri Lanka on a visit to Thailand.

Dr Muttucumaru made some notable contacts and observations during her visit to Sri Lanka. These and the outcomes of some of the meetings are noted below:

• Dr Muttucumaru had in-depth discussions with Dr Jayasekera, his PhD student and his post-doctoral scientist in order to get an overview of their current research themes. Her assessment is that there is sufficient overlap between Dr Jayasekera's research themes and those of Rothamsted Research with which Dr Muttucumaru has been involved to warrant future collaborations. The possibility of one of Dr Jayasekera's team visiting Rothamsted Research under the auspices of the Rothamsted International Fellowship scheme was discussed and the discussions are currently on-going. Other avenues for funding are being explored. The possibility of gaining access to rice germplasm from Sri Lanka was also discussed. Due to his strong ties with the International Rice Research Institute in Sri Lanka and with the director of the IRRI, Dr Jayasekera indicated that he could facilitate discussions between Dr Muttucumaru and the Director of the IRRI to enable access to the rice germplasm available in Sri Lanka.

• Dr Muttucumaru met with a number of senior members of the plant science faculty. Since the meetings were numerous and time-limited Dr Muttucumaru requested faculty members who are currently involved in research programmes to submit a synopsis of their research to her, with a view to explore future collaborative opportunities. She has received synopses from those requested.
The laboratories at the University of Colombo were poorly resourced in terms of basic pieces of laboratory equipment needed for research. Post-graduate students therefore carry out this work, at a cost, in the laboratories of privately run biotech companies such as Genetech, or at the Institute of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IBMBB). The latter, although affiliated to the University of Colombo, requires post-graduate MSc, and PhD students to pay for the use of the equipment. This excludes most post-graduate students on bursaries which are inadequate to support the financial outlay required to use these services.

During her meeting with the special degree students, Dr Muttucumaru noted that there was a great deal of talent and ability, but also a great deal of pessimism amongst these students with regard to their future in Sri Lanka were they to choose a career in Science.

• Dr Muttucumaru's meeting with Professor Sirimali Fernando, the Chairperson of the NSF, was very productive. Professor Fernando indicated that she would be very supportive of any future collaboration between Rothamsted Research and the University of Colombo or any of the other institutes supported by the NSF. Dr Muttucumaru was very pleased to have been invited by Professor Sirimali Fernando to become a member of the Global Forum of ex-pat Sri Lankan scientists. This will provide an ideal opportunity for Dr Muttucumaru to network with other ex-pat Sri Lankan scientists, many of whom currently hold senior positions in academia and industry across the globe. Whilst at the NSF she was able to meet with senior scientist and member of the Global Forum, Professor Monte Cassim, who is Vice-Chancellor of the Ritsumeikan Trust, and Professor at the Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan.

NSF-funded PhD projects require the findings of their research to be published in the NSF journal. Due to inadequate finances and restricted no access to the required laboratory equipment, the opportunity to publish in international peer-reviewed journals is very limited.
Exploitation Route There are clearly overlaps in the interests of Rothamsted Research and some of the research teams working in Sri Lanka. It had been hoped that a scientists from Sri Lanks could visit our lab under a Rothamsted International Fellowship. However, Dr Muttucumaru was made redundant in 2013, which meant that the contacts that had been made were broken.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

Description Dr Muttucumaru was made redundant in 2013 and this has made follow-up very difficult. Nevertheless the contacts she made would be extremely useful for other BBSRC staff if a relationship with Sri Lanka were to be developed.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink