(Austin, Texas. March 1, 2012) The nonprofit American Botanical Council (ABC) announces that Professor Djaja Doel Soejarto, PhD, of the University of Illinois – Chicago (UIC) is the recipient of this year's ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award.
The award's namesake is ABC's co-founding Board of Trustees member, the late Prof. Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD. Dr. Farnsworth was a research professor of pharmacognosy and senior university scholar at the College of Pharmacy at UIC. The medicinal plant community lost a champion when he died last year at the age of 81. ABC will continue to present this award each year to a person or institution that has made significant contributions to botanical and/or pharmacognostic research (i.e., research on drugs of natural origin, usually from plants).
Like the renowned individual for whom the award was named, Dr. Soejarto is a professor of pharmacognosy in the department of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy at the College of Pharmacy at UIC. He also teaches biology in UIC's department of biological sciences.
"My immediate reaction on receiving the notification about the ABC Norman Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award was a downcast feeling, 'Have I done something worthwhile for such an award?'" said Dr. Soejarto. "After a reflection, that feeling soon turned into elation, and thankfulness to the American Botanical Council. All my significant accomplishments during the past 30 years have been associated with Norman Farnsworth. Specifically, I have accomplished my professional successes because of the mentorship of this great Professor" (e-mail communication, February 24, 2012).
"The Farnsworth Award's being granted to Prof. Soejarto is particularly poignant this year," said ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal. "Prof. Farnsworth himself chose Prof. Soejarto a few months before he died last September. Thus Prof. Soejarto is the last person to receive this award with Prof. Farnsworth's 'blessing.'"
A native of Indonesia, Dr. Soejarto earned his master's and doctorate degrees at Harvard University, where the primary focuses of his studies were biology and botany. He has held various professorial positions at UIC since 1979. Some of the highlights of his scientific career include the completion of the taxonomic revision of the genus Saurauia, the discovery of anti-HIV calanolides from a pair of Calophyllum species, and the founding of the herbarium at the University of Anitoqiua in Colombia.
As the principal investigator of The Vietnam-Laos International Cooperative Biodiversity Group, "a program for collaborative research in the pharmaceutical studies" housed in UIC's College of Pharmacy, Dr. Soejarto leads the group in inventorying the medicinal plants of Vietnam's Cuc Phuong National Park, analyzing plants in Vietnam and Laos for potential drug development, supporting economic development in Vietnam and Laos, and making information on Cuc Phuong's plants available on the web.1 Fifty-seven new and active compounds have been discovered thus far.
According to Dr. Soejarto, the concept of "multidisciplinary collaboration" in scientific research was one of the most significant things he learned from Dr. Farnsworth. It ultimately "lured him into the study of medicinal plants" and "enabled [him] to find a niche in the endeavor to discover new bioactive molecules from plants."
"Doel Soejarto has devoted almost a half century to the multi-disciplinary study of medicinal plants, including taxonomy, ethnobotany, biodiversity inventory and conservation, drug discovery, and intellectual property rights of indigenous people," said Harry Fong, PhD, professor emeritus of pharmacognosy at UIC. "His pursuit in each of these areas of botanical research is laser-focused. It can be said that if all around him is in a state of chaos, Doel will not be deterred from his task at hand. His sense of duty, his devotion to the pursuit of knowledge generation, his desire and enthusiasm to advance botanical sciences for the good of humanity are the essence of his being" (e-mail communication, February 28, 2012).This year, Dr. Soejarto also has been honored by the Society for Economic Botany as its "Distinguished Economic Botanist." He sits on the editorial boards of Pharmaceutical Biology, Tropical Ethnobiology, and the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, the last of which he previously edited for 14 years. In addition, he is a member of a number of prestigious professional organizations, and his articles have been featured in Phytochemistry, Pharmaceutical Biology, and the Journal of Genetics and Applications.