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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 67  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 17--19

Remembering India's first, “unrecognized” neuroscientist: Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose

Prakash N Tandon 
 National Brain Research Institute, Manesar, Haryana; Department of Neurosurgery, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Prakash N Tandon
National Brain Research Institute, Manesar, Haryana
India




How to cite this article:
Tandon PN. Remembering India's first, “unrecognized” neuroscientist: Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose.Neurol India 2019;67:17-19


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Tandon PN. Remembering India's first, “unrecognized” neuroscientist: Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose. Neurol India [serial online] 2019 [cited 2019 Apr 22 ];67:17-19
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An important new feature of Neurology India initiated by its current Editor, Prof. Sanjay Behari, is the series of biographies of the founders of Indian Neurosciences. In common perception, even among current neuroscientists, both basic and clinical, the foundation of modern neurosciences in the country was laid down by the three doyens – Professors Jacob Chandy, B. Ramamurthi, and Baldev Singh, sometime in early 1950s.[1],[2],[3] A chance encounter recently with an unrelated publication revealed that we had overlooked the real pioneer of neurosciences, in its broadest sense, nearly half a century earlier than the three doyens. Talking to a host of distinguished neuroscientists, it became obvious that practically no one could guess the identity of this one of the most outstanding scientists of the country. There are a variety of reasons for this oversight. The fact that he was a physicist of international repute, who devoted the last four decades of his life to apply his exceptional expertise in physics initially to inorganic material and then to plants in search of proof for his philosophical belief in the universal truth in “Unity of Life” and evolution. He thus came to be recognized not only as an outstanding physicist but also the father of bio-physics, and then, as the founder of plant physiology in the country. The fact that most, if not all, of his contributions in plant physiology were really related to plant nervous system which has recently been acknowledged globally by establishing a new discipline – the plant neurobiology.[4],[5],[6],[7],[8],[9]

I wonder how many readers of this article could guess the name of this shining star of renaissance of Indian Science in the early twentieth century. Before I proceed further, let me unveil the mystery. He was no other than Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose. During the last few months, I have extensively read about his contributions which have been reviewed in two papers currently in press.[10],[11] But recognizing the lack of appreciation of his amazing contributions on the plant nervous system, I thought of providing a glimpse of his unparalleled contributions documented in 8 monographs and more than 100 papers.

Bose was born on 30 November 1858, at Mymensingh (now in Bangladesh), and he studied initially in a village Pathsala and later at St. Xavier School and College in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Here, one of his teachers, Father Eugene Lafont, aroused his interest in Physics. Later, he was sent to London to study medicine.

But owing to his ill health (?chronic, malaria, kala-azar), he left medical studies and went to Cambridge for a Tripos in Physics, Chemistry, and Botany and obtained a BA in 1883. The same year, he got a BSc degree from London. On his return to the country, he was appointed (the first Indian) the Professor of Physics at the Presidency College in 1885. For the first 15 years, his researches were focused on the study of electromagnetic waves and their effect on inorganic matter. For this purpose, he fabricated a number of most ingenious instruments. These included optical magnetic crescographs, the electric probe, the resonant recorder, the semiconductor diode detector, and the few millimetre wave length microwave generator [Figure 1] and [Figure 2]. He antedated Marconi in demonstrating the transmission of these waves to travel a distance through solid walls to illustrate wireless communication.{Figure 1}{Figure 2}

In search of his belief in “Unity of Life,” and having demonstrated animal-like responses in organic material to electromagnetic waves, he turned his attention to explore the same in plants, initially in Mimosa pudica and Desmodium gyrans, and later on, in a whole variety of small herbs to big trees, both those growing on soil and in water. Thus, following a demonstration of his findings at various congresses and institutions in the United Kingdom and Europe, in early 1902, he published a monograph, “Response in the living and non-living.”[12] After publishing a series of monographs and scientific papers, he concluded, “Before us are spread multitudinous plants, silent and seemingly impassive. They like us are actors in the cosmic drama of life, like us plaything of destiny … various shocks impinge on them, but no cry is raised in answer. I shall nevertheless try to decipher some chapters of their life history” (Prof. Bose in his discourse at the Bose Institute on the 7th February 1919). Details of these experiments were published in eight monographs and dozens of papers. Those interested should see a book “J.C Bose Speaks” (editors: Dibaker Sen and Ajay Kumar Chakraborty, 1986),[13] which is a collection of most of the papers by Bose on this subject. A visit to the museums at Bose Institute, Kolkata, would be most rewarding [Figure 2].

It may be mentioned that prior to Prof. Bose's studies, Darwin in 1875[14],[15] had already demonstrated nervous impulses in insectivorous plants, but the types of details of the nervous system in plants documented by Bose, using the most ingenuous and sensitive devices fabricated by him, were unmatched by any scientist before him. Notwithstanding the claims of the priority by Augustus Waller from London, having established “the phenomenon of vegetable electricity,” it is Prof. Bose who deserves the credit for this.[16] Thus, Shepherd [7] in his detailed studies of Bose's contributions concluded, “… He was the first to recognize the ubiquitous importance of electrical signalling between plant cells in coordinating responses to the environment. He provided direct evidence that the long distance, rapid electrical signalling stimulated leaf movements in Mimosa and Desmodium and also showed that plants produce continuous, systemic electrical pulses.” Brenner et al.,[5] while reiterating the above added, “Bose's overall conclusion that plants have an electro-mechanical pulse, a nervous system, a form of intelligence, and are capable of remembering and learning, was not well received in its time. A hundred years later, the concepts of plant intelligence, learning, and long distance electrical signalling in plants have entered the mainstream literature.”

Already in 1907, Bose measured action potentials (AP) preceding the visible folding movements of the leaflets and recorded their response to a variety of stimuli, heat, light, shock, toxins, and anesthetics. On the basis of his physiological experimentation and his logical studies, he established that “the nerve tissue … consists of elongated tubular cells in the plant phloem, the dividing membrane of which acts alike a synapse in the animal.”[17] Besides measuring the stimulus-induced AP, he also observed “spontaneous” rhythmic pulsatory movements akin to the beating of the heart in animals. In his talk at Guildhouse in London in 1929, Bose described this phenomenon poetically. “In many other ways, we are able to find that a plant has a heart that beats continuously as long as life remains.” All this was possible because of the ultrasensitive recording instruments (the like of which did not exist), which he devised himself. He was able to record not only extracellular but also intracellular activity. The author has been unable to find any report of intracellular recordings even in the animal nervous system prior to Bose's studies in plants.[10],[11] It is remarkable that already in 1918 (exactly a hundred years ago), Bose in a lecture on “Control of Nervous Impulse” stated, “The propagation of nervous impulse is a phenomenon of transmission of molecular disturbance.” The molecular studies recently carried out have established the existence of a variety of neurotransmitters and molecules such as auxin, actin, myosin, and acetylcholine that are responsible for the process of impulse transmission in plants.[6],[8] The above brief account should be enough to establish that Bose was the founding father of neuroscience, even though his pioneering work lapsed into oblivion. During his life time, he was generally suspected, was often criticized, and called a propagator of “pseudoscience,” illusionary science, and doomed to oblivion. This controversy was even reported in the most prestigious British newspaper, The Time, following which the Royal Society appointed a committee consisting of Sir William Bragg and Sir William Bayliss who investigated Bose's records and were fully satisfied that (Bose's) magnetic crescograph correctly recorded the response of plants at a magnification of ten million times.[18] It has now been confirmed by a number of recent studies in plant neurobiology that he was the first not only in India but globally to demonstrate the existent of plant nerves, record their AP, both extra- and intracellularly, measure their speed and strength and response to a variety of external stimuli, elaborate the existence of synapses, and postulate the underlying molecular mechanisms for the same.[5],[6],[7],[8],[19],[20],[21] Not only all of Bose's observations have now been confirmed but also extended to demonstrate evidence of higher nervous activity like memory, learning, intelligence, cognition, and consciousness in plants.[4],[10],[11],[22],[23] Let me conclude this essay by a hundred-year-old quotation of Bose, “My investigations prove that not only has nervous system been developed (in plants), but it had attained a high degree of complexity as marked by the reflex arc in which sensory input becomes transformed into a motor impulse.”[1]

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

References

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11Tandon PN. Jagdish Chandra Bose and plant neurobiology – Part 2. 2018.
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