Keerti Rathore, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant biotechnologist in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, is a recipient of the International Cotton Advisory Committee, ICAC, Researcher of the Year Award.

A man in glasses, Keerti Rathore. He is wearing a light colored plaid shirt.
Keerti Rathore, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant biotechnologist in the Texas A&M Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, has been selected as a recipient of the International Cotton Advisory Committee Researcher of the Year Award. (Texas A&M AgriLife)

Rathore and David Fang, Ph.D., supervisory research geneticist and research leader at the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service in New Orleans, were selected by a panel of seven eminent experts from seven countries. ICAC honors prominent cotton researchers each year by awarding a certificate of recognition, a shield and an honorarium.

“Dr. Rathore’s accolade is an important reflection of his and his team’s globally impactful achievements in cotton,” said G. Cliff Lamb, director of AgriLife Research. “It also underscores the leading-edge discoveries and innovations that propel our agency mission in Texas, the U.S. and the world.”

Rathore, who will accept the award during the 8th World Cotton Research Conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in October, said, “I am honored and humbled to receive this award from the international cotton research community. It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of many of my lab members.”

Revolutionary cotton research

Rathore earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in India, followed by a doctorate from Imperial College, London. Although his doctoral research and early postdoctoral work were in electrophysiology, he transitioned to applied sciences, learning crop biotechnology at Purdue University while working on a Rockefeller Foundation-funded Rice Biotechnology project.

While Rathore has worked with several crops such as sorghum, rice and potato within AgriLife Research, cotton is where his scientific advances are best known.

Rathore’s research is dedicated to understanding all aspects of generating transgenic and gene-edited cotton, eventually developing and publishing detailed protocols to benefit the cotton biotechnology community. Rathore and his team have published 28 research papers and six book chapters and have been awarded seven U.S. patents related to their work on cotton biotechnology.

Rathore conceived and developed the ultra-low gossypol cottonseed, ULGCS, trait and obtained deregulation and food/feed-use approval for event TAM66274. In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the green light for ULGCS to be used as human food and in animal feed based on Rathore’s work to remove the toxicity in the seed — a project he had been working on for nearly 25 years. 

“Dr. Rathore’s work to make this happen has garnered recognition worldwide,” said David Baltensperger, head of the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences. “He is recognized as one of the nation’s thought leaders in RNAi use, after using the technology to create the ultra-low gossypol cottonseed.”

Rathore’s laboratory and team have engineered cotton plants to resist, tolerate or outcompete biotic stresses such as nematodes, fungal diseases, insect pests and weeds, and abiotic stresses such as drought.

According to his nomination, Rathore’s goal is the global adoption of ULGCS for humanitarian use. He envisions a future where cotton is valued for its fiber and an alternative protein source. This dual-purpose use of the crop should improve the sustainability of cotton cultivation.

Sharing research expertise

Many undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and six international visiting scientists have been trained in Rathore’s laboratory.

Rathore collaborates with many national and international scientists and has been invited to present seminars nationally and internationally. Additionally, he has conducted invited workshops on plant biotechnology in Argentina, Ecuador and Taiwan and served as a review panel member for the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research agriculture biotechnology program.

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