Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Mano Pathak, first IRRI entomologist and director of research and training, passes away

Dr. Mano Dutta Pathak, 85, passed away peacefully at home with family members present in St. Peters, MO, USA, on 6 November 2019. Born in 1934 in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh (U.P.), India, he had also lived in the Philippines and the United States.

One of the key researchers who ushered in the Green Revolution in rice, Mano was an internationally-acclaimed scientist dedicated to improving crop production and agricultural education to eradicate hunger and poverty in the developing world. 

In 1962, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) hired the youthful 28-year-old entomologist who was then studying the stem borer in Indian sorghum fields. He arrived with his family in April that year to be the fledgling institute’s first entomologist in its then Plant Protection Department. He would stay on at IRRI for the next 27 years as an entomologist and upper-level administrator.

He obtained his Ph D in entomology with a minor in genetics at Kansas State University in 1958 under the direction of Reginald H. Painter, a world authority on controlling insects by developing resistant plant varieties. In India, Mano’s work with the sorghum stem borer gave him an excellent background to study the rice stem borer, a devastating insect in the rice fields of the tropics and subtropics.

According to IRRI’s first director general, Robert Chandler, Jr., in his book, An Adventure in Applied Science, it was not long before Mano developed a first-class entomology research program at IRRI. He headed the Entomology Department from its creation in1962 until 1973. In 1974, he was promoted to the position of assistant director of research. By 1977, he had been made the first director of research and training, a title he held until he departed from IRRI in 1989. 

In 1962, Mano identified three species of the dreaded stem borer most common in the Los BaƱos area (IRRI’s headquarters in the Philippines)—Chilo suppressalis (the most prevalent), Tryporyza incertulas, and Sesamia inferens. In greenhouse tests to determine whether there were variations in resistance to the insects, he found that when the plants were exposed to large numbers of insects, the percentage of infested stems ran from as low as 8.4% to nearly 50%. This led him to surmise that rice varieties could be bred with resistance to stem borer and other insects. His research in this area led him to become known in many circles as the “Father of Host Plant Resistance in Rice.”

Because control via varietal resistance was only a possibility in the early 1960s, Mano devoted some time to studying means of chemical control. During 1964, he and his research assistants conducted many fundamental greenhouse studies with Lindane, including mode of action of the insecticide, the optimum rate of application, and the duration of residues in the plants. He also studied the effect of Lindane on fish in rice fields and determined that amounts up to 2 kg of active ingredient/hectare did not harm fish commonly raised in the puddled fields.

Also in 1964, IRRI’s third symposium at headquarters in those early days covered the major insect pests of the rice plant. About 100 scientists from 13 countries attended and 36 papers were presented. Mano coordinated all arrangements for the symposium and was the technical editor of the proceedings, which was billed at the time as “the most complete description in one volume on rice insects and their control that is available anywhere.” Thirty years later in 1994, Mano co-authored with Z.R. Khan Insect Pests of Rice that provided updated information with full-color photos on the biology, damage, seasonal history, abundance, and control measures of the major insect pests of rice, much of which is still relevant today.

By 1965, Mano was again putting emphasis on varietal resistance to stem borer and other insects such as brown and green leafhoppers. He concluded that the nature of varietal resistance to stem borer was complex. His initial screening of more than 9,000 varieties from the world collection found none to be immune to stem borer attack, despite considerable variation in the degree of susceptibility.

In 1966, Mano discovered that an Indian variety, TKM6, was consistently more resistant to stem borer attack than were most other varieties. One cross that turned out to be particularly successful was that between TKM6 and (Peta/Taichung Native 1).

Subsequently working with IRRI breeders and plant pathologists, he found that many of the selections from that cross in the F4 and F5 generations proved to be resistant to stem borer, leafhopper, and diseases such as bacterial blight and tungro. In 1969, one of those selections was designated as IR20, which was the first IRRI-named variety that had a truly broad spectrum of resistance to both insects and diseases. IR20’s disease and insect resistance and its superior grain quality made it a popular variety in South and Southeast Asia for several years. Indeed, it was a significant advance for IRRI and the development of even better rice varieties in the future.

In October 1976, Mano co-led with Director General Nyle Brady an IRRI group of scientists on the institute’s first foray into China. The objective was to collaborate on rice research with Chinese scientists across all disciplines. They traveled in the PRC for about 3 weeks. The team (photo), besides Dr. Brady and Mano as the director of research and representing entomology, included Randy Barker (economics), S.K. De Datta (agronomy), Gurdev Khush (breeding), S.H. Ou (plant pathology), and S. Yoshida (physiology) . They visited most of the institutions conducting research on rice as well as rice-growing communes where they could interview actual farmers. It was a rewarding and landmark visit. In 1978, the institute published, Rice Research and Production in China: an IRRI Team’s View.

Since 1965, more than 15,000 professionals from rice-producing countries worldwide have participated in IRRI training (short- and medium-term courses and masters and Ph D programs) involving rice production, pest management, soil management, and postharvest technology, among others. Serving as IRRI’s director of training for 12 years (1977-89), many of these young scientists were trained during Mano’s watch. In 2015, the golden anniversary of rice research in India, he wrote in Rice Today magazine: “Over the years, more than 1,000 of the total IRRI trainees were from India. They are now part of a global IRRI alumni network and occupy key leadership positions across India and are making significant contributions to the overall improvement of the country’s rice crop production and use.”  

After leaving IRRI in 1989, Mano returned to India to become the founding director general of the U.P. Council of Agriculture Research (UPCAR), which oversaw all government agricultural research and education programs for the entire state. At UPCAR, Mano recognized that U.P. had the largest concentration of sodic (sodium) lands in India, owned or operated by the most marginalized farmers. He was convinced that these undesirable lands could be reclaimed organically. Upon retirement in 1994, he founded the nonprofit Center for Research and Development of Waste and Marginal Lands in Lucknow, U.P., to address this issue. After screening nearly 6,000 varieties of crops, fruits, and trees, 21 varieties were identified as tolerant/resistant to the highest levels of soil sodicity. Planting these varieties, along with protection from overgrazing, reclaimed the farmlands for regular crops and horticultural production. 

Kind and generous, Mano participated in many philanthropic activities. Closest to his heart were the schools he built in U.P. and scholarships he provided to children in need. He believed in the good in people and never hesitated to give them a second chance.  Above all, Mano had great love for his family and was obsessively dedicated to uplifting the welfare of the helpless and the poor.

Among his many awards, accolades, and offices, he received the Research Award of the International Year of Rice, Tokyo, Japan (2004), the Distinguished Alumni Award, Kansas State University (1992), DSc Honoris Causa, Pantnagar University (1992), and the Borlaug Award of India (1973). He was honored for Leadership in Research and Development during the International Symposium on Insect Host Plant Resistance, Indianapolis (1992) and named a Fellow of the Indian National Academy of Sciences (1987). He was vice president and keynote speaker for the International Congress of Plant Protection in Tokyo (1990) and was president of the Journal of Ecofriendly Agriculture, India (2007-19)     

Mano was preceded in death by his wife, Durga, and an infant son. He is survived by his daughters Kiran (Ram) Misra of Erie, PA; Renu (Paul) Miles of Tracy, CA; Shashi Pathak (Trevor L. Rees) of O’Fallon, MO; grandchildren, Rajeev (Emily) Misra, Sunil (Lekshmi) Misra, Asha Miles, Dev Miles, Jai Miles, Mira Miles; and five great-grandchildren.

Funeral services were held on 9 November 2019 in St. Charles, MO.

Donations in his memory may be sent to the Asia Rice Foundation USA (www.asiariceusa.org), which provides scholarships to U.S.-based university students studying rice-related agriculture, or the SSM Hospice Foundation (www.ssmhealth.com/donate/hospice-home-health-foundation).   

Condolences may be expressed to his family via Shashi Pathak, 5 Williamstown Ct., St. Peters, MO 63376; pathakrees@gmail.com; or at https://www.baue.com/obit/mano-pathak.

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