Dr Ajai Kumar Sonkar, an independent research scientist from Sangam city in Prayagraj, has been awarded the prestigious Padma Shri this year for his outstanding achievements in the field of pearl culture.
Dr Sonkar is the chairman of the Pearl Aquaculture Research Foundation and principal investigator of the research mission in this field. His work in developing pearl making techniques using state-of-the-art tissue culture has gained worldwide recognition.
As a teenager, Dr Sonkar wanted to become an engineer and studied physics, chemistry and mathematics at Allahabad University. But it was an episode of a Doordarshan afternoon TV show that piqued his interest in pearl culture.
Dr Sonkar wanted to make pearls from oysters in freshwater, the way the Japanese did. While he realised soon that this would prove to be a strenuous task, he didn’t give up.
In 1993, he successfully developed a method to develop black pearls in freshwater and received an invitation to attend the first International Conference on Pearl Culture. Today, the scientist has dozens of research papers published in international journals to his credit and has given lectures about pearl culture in at least 68 countries.
“Japan has the technology but it does not have a natural climate. It gets so cold that a round of pearl culture takes at least two and a half to three years. But here it happens between six months to a year. India has this advantage. Our pearls are also of better quality,” Dr Sonkar explained.
According to a report by The Print, former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam described Dr Sonkar’s discovery of black pearls as a great achievement for the country. “Since then, there has been a continuous process of development of new techniques,” added the report.
Dr Sonkar developed the black pearl in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. “Andaman has a great potential to produce black pearls, which [are] the most valuable and rarest of the rare gems produced by a species of marine oysters known as Pinctada margaritifera,” said the pearl scientist in an interview with The Daily Telegrams.
Recently, he also built a new laboratory of cell biology and tissue culture along with his laboratory in Prayagraj. He successfully transported black-lip pearl oysters from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to his lab and produced pearls using the special technique he developed.
“Pinctada margaritifera oysters are found in saltwater sea. After removing their mantle, I brought them to my lab 2,000 km away, with all measures to keep them safe. It took us 72 hours but they were completely alive and healthy. We then cultured and injected them. They not only made pearly components, but pearls too,” Dr Sonkar told Speed News.
As per a report of the Hindustan Times, this achievement earned him praise from President Ram Nath Kovind, who also invited him to Rashtrapati Bhawan on 19 October 2021.
Recent research also includes the study of Bivalve mollusc, a small pearl oyster that purifies 30 to 100 million gallons of water each day and can retain particles as small as two microns.
The scientist has also developed a technique to produce nucleated spherical pearls in freshwater, discovered an Indian shell that is most suitable for nuclei production, and developed own technique to fabricate the best quality of nuclei which is essential for quality pearls.
The Padma Shri award was presented to him under the science and engineering category.
Edited by Divya Sethu
Image credits: Facebook/Dr Ajai Kumar Sonkar and Team