1 Dr. Kamala Sohonie: Discoverer of an Enzyme and a Malnutrition Solution

Amy Minervini

[The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is: 9.78]

Dr. Kamala Sohonie was born in 1911 Indore, India, into a family of chemists.  She naturally was interested in chemistry and pursued her undergraduate degree in biochemistry. She graduated top of her class. When she tried to apply to graduate school, she was rejected because she was a woman. Undeterred, she staged a silent protest in the office of Sir Ramen, the person in charge of the program, and left him no reason to not accept her. He reluctantly agreed but under the conditions that she work in the evenings and wasn’t a distraction to other male students.

Picture of Dr. Kamala Sohonie
Dr. Kamala Sohonie

She once explained her frustration to an audience of female scientists: “Though Raman was a great scientist, he was very narrow-minded. I can never forget the way he treated me just because I was a woman. Even then, Raman didn’t admit me as a regular student. This was a great insult to me. The bias against women was so bad at that time” (Viswakarma).

Dr. Sohonie impressed Raman with her hard work and talents, so he ended her trial period after one year and began to allow women to enter the institute. She earned her master’s degree and went on to study at Cambridge University. Her work there focused on plant tissues, where she discovered cytochrome C. What was the implication of this? “Working on potatoes she found that every cell of plant tissue also contains the enzyme “cytochrome C” and that cytochrome C is involved in oxidation of all plant cells. This was an original discovery embracing the entire plant kingdom” (Dhuru 32).

She was the first Indian woman to earn a Ph.D. in the sciences. She completed her degree in 14 months and wrote a succinct 40-page dissertation. Dissertations are typically hundreds of pages long!

Sap being collected from the Phoenix sylvestris tree
A pot tied to the Phoenix sylvestris tree for collecting sweet sap (neera)


She eventually became the director of the Royal Institute of Science, where she did innovative studies on neera, palm tree sap. She found that neera was chock full of vitamins A and C and the mineral iron: “The introduction of Neera in the diet of tribal malnourished adolescent children and pregnant women caused significant improvement in their overall health” (Sury).

Dr. Sohonie received the Rashtrapati Award from the president of India for her pioneering work. She died at age 86.


Writing Prompts

Narrative: Dr. Kamala Sohonie followed in the footsteps of her father and uncle. Think about the work/job that a family member or adult in your life has. Write a brief story about a day in the life of a person doing the job that they do. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3

Informative: Look up the word bias in a dictionary. In your own words, retell what the word means. Give 3 examples of types of bias or give 3 examples of bias that folks might regularly encounter. Make sure to cite your sources. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2

Persuasive: Wars, the pandemic, and global warming are impacting food supplies and nutrition in all countries around the world. People are go hungry and suffer from malnutrition daily. What do you think are the 3 best ways to reduce food insecurity and malnutrition in the short or long term? Please cite any sources you use. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1

Creative/Application: National Nutrition Month takes place in March, and Kids Eat Right Month takes place in August. Both awareness programs focus on the importance of healthy eating, healthy lifestyles. Keep in mind that often healthier foods are more expensive. Using information from either website or other nutrition sites, create a poster campaign for your school that reminds kids/teens to make healthy(ier) food choices, making sure to note any fruits, vegetables, and/or grains that are the most budget-friendly.

Works Cited

American Association of University Women. “The Science of Feeding the Hungry in India.” 13 Nov. 2014, ww3.aauw.org/2014/11/13/kamala-sohonie/. Accessed 29 June 2022.

Manjunath, Chandrika. “Kamala Sohonie: First Indian Woman To Get A PhD In Science | #IndianWomenInHistory.” Feminism In India, 28 July 2021, feminisminindia.com/2017/12/25/kamala-sohonie-phd-science/#:~:text=From%20her%20work%20on%20potatoes,plants%2C%20human%20and%20animal%20cells. Accessed 29 June 2022.

Sury, Vidya. “Kamala Sohonie.” Vidya Sury, Collecting Smiles, 16 Feb. 2018, vidyasury.com/2014/04/kamala-sohonie.html. Accessed 29 June 2022.

Vasumati, Dhuru. “The Scientist Lady.” Lilavati’s Daughters: The Women Scientists of India, edited by Rohini M. Godbole and Ram Ramaswamy, Indian Academy of Sciences, 2008, pp. 32-33.

Viswakarma, Ravi. “Dr. Kamala Sohonie : Breaking the Barriers in the History of Indian Science.” Cogito137, scicomm.iiserkol.ac.in/docs/1/pages/kamala.html. Accessed 28 June 2022.


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