Lekh Raj Batra
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Lekh Raj Batra (Nov. 26, 1929 - May 20, 1999) was a distinguished mycologist and linguist. (1) He studied the symbiotic relationship of fungi and beetles focusing on ambrosia beetles and fungi, bio-systematics of hemiascomycetes and discomycetes and fungal diseases. (2)
Batra was born in a village near the Thar Desert in Western Punjab, British India. He has two sisters and two brothers. His family suffered the ethnic violence following the partition of British India, in that he lost all the relatives from his mother’s side. His penniless family moved to Punjab, India after partition. From here, begin his quest with mushrooms as he hunts the hills for edible mushrooms to feed his family. (3)
Batra attended his high school in Lahore, Pakistan. (2) He was the first member of his family to attend school. He got his Bachelors and Masters of Science degrees with Honors in Botany from Panjab University, Chandigarh (3) as a President of India scholar. (2) In 1956, he moved to the United States of America as a student and got his Doctorate in Botany from Cornell University in 1958 under Richard P. Korf. (2)
Batra served as a lecturer for one year at the Deshbandhu College in Delhi before moving to the US. (2) He also served in the Indian army. (3) After graduating from Cornell University, he started teaching Botany at Swarthmore College near Philadelphia where he met Suzanne W. Tubby, his future wife. He briefly worked for the Indian government in 1960’s. (3) He returned to the United States and joined the University of Kansas as a research associate while his wife was doing her doctorate there in entomology. Batra later became assistant and associate professor, working on the symbiotic relationship of ambrosia fungi and beetles. In 1963, he became a US citizen. After his wife graduated in 1967, they moved to Beltsville, Maryland where he joined federal government’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center and became senior scientist and research leader. In 1986, he served as science advisor to the director of Beltsville. He retired in 1994. (2) After his retirement, he served as coordinator to the International Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems, a UNESCO project aimed at providing information regarding food and agriculture for developing countries.
Batra married Suzanne W. Tubby in a Hindu wedding ceremony on June 12, 1960 in Delhi, India. They have two children, daughter Mira and son Persa. He was actively involved in the community activities and affairs in Beltsville. He was famous for his excellent sense of humor. He was a man of diverse interests. Once he dressed up in a plaid shirt, jeans and a straw hat and entered the Greenbelt Labor Day parade with 13 piglets and a sow, that he borrowed, from research station. (2) He volunteered to babysit his neighbor’s three-month-old daughter. He lulled the baby with a lecture on botany. He was involved in the opposing of the sale of research station’s land to the developers. (2)(3) He was a noted linguist. He was fluent in six Indian languages. He was a master in English, Hindi and Urdu, French and German. He knew some Arabic, Japanese and Russian too. (2)(3) According to his former colleague, Marie Tousignant, “He is known worldwide for his work in mycology. He once translated all of the Latin scientific terms into Japanese. He was truly fascinating." (1) He is known to translate Khruschev’s Russian speech in both English and Arabic for others as he listened to the speech on television. (2) His funeral followed a traditional Indian reception where mourners were served with truffles, morels, oyster and shiitake mushrooms. (1)
Batra is the author of four monographs including World Species of Monilinia. He published more than 130 articles and reviews. He served as an editor and edited four books and two volumes of a journal. He travelled the world before retirement in search of unknown fungi. He discovered 38 new fungal species (4) and 7 fungal diseases. He collaborated with wife Suzanne and studied the mummy-berry disease of blueberries and huckleberries caused by Monilinia species. This study featured in Science. They also published on fungi cultivating insects, that appeared in Scientific American in 1967. (2) Batra was writing his autobiography before his death but unfortunately, he died of cerebral hemorrhage in Washington D.C. on May 20, 1999. (3) He featured among 10 people in the Washington Post’s article “Passings 1999”. (3)
1. Batra LR. 1875. Ambrosia fungi: extent of specificity in ambrosia beetles. Science 153:193-195.
2. Batra SWT, Batra LR. 1967. The fungus gardens of insects. Sci Amer 217:112-20.
3. Batra LR. 1967. Ambrosia fungi: a taxonomic revision and nutritional studies of some species. Mycologia 59:976-1017.
4. Batra SWT, Bohart GE. 1973. The mycoflora of domesticated and wild bees (Apoidea). Mycol Appl 49:13- 44.
5. Millner PD. 1976. Asian fermented foods and beverages. In: Unterkifler LA, ed. Developments in industrial mycology. Washington, DC. Soc Indust Microbiol 17:117-128
6. Batra SWT. 1985. Floral mimicry induced by mummy-berry fungus exploits host's pollinators as vectors. Science 228:1011-1013 3 PubMed
7. Names of Japanese Plants in Romanized Katakana and Scientific Nomenclature.
1. Nematosporaceae (Hemiascomycetidae): taxonomy, pathogenicity, distribution and vector relations. USDA Tech Bull 1469:1-77. 1973
2. Insect-fungus symbiosis: nutrition, mutualism and commensalisms. Montclair, New Jersey: Allanheld, Osmun & Co. 276 p. 1979
3. World species of Monilinia (Fungi): their ecology, biosystematics and control. Mycologia Mem 16. 246 p. 1991 (http://books.google.com/books?id=0GgQAQAAMAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s)
1. Pae, P. (1999, Dec 26). LEKH RAJ BATRA; after the partitioning of his native India, mycologist lekh raj batra went into the hills to forage for mushrooms, a quest that sparked a lifelong passion. series: Passings 1999. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/408573262?accountid=10920
2. Lekh Raj Batra, 1929-1999 Robert W. Lichtwardt and William C. Denison Mycologia, Vol. 95, No. 5 (Sep. - Oct., 2003), pp. 982–983 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3762026
5. Floral Mimicry Induced by Mummy-Berry Fungus Exploits Host's Pollinators as Vectors. Science. 1985 May 24;228(4702):1011-3 PubMed