Memoriam: Prof. Kandiah Balasubramaniam (1932-2021)

by Sachi Sri Kantha, January 1, 2022

Prof. Kandiah Balasubramaniam

Only in last September, I wrote about my memories of student days about Prof. A. A. Hoover and passingly mentioned Prof. Kandiah Balasubramaniam. Then, last November, the news of death of Prof. Balasubramaniam saddened me a lot. He died on November 9th, at the age of 89 in Colombo. With the exception of Prof. (Mrs) Navam Hettiarachchy who lives in Arkansas, now I have lost all my mentors of university days who personally influenced my then budding career as a scientist in Sri Lanka, between 1972 and 1980. The list of my lamented mentors include, Dr. Karthigesu Sivapalan, Dr. Ponniah Sivapalan, Prof. Mano Sabaratnam, and Prof. Thomas (Tommy) Wikramanayake. Now, Prof. Balasubramaniam also joins this list.

Among Eelam Tamil academics, there were two K. Balasubramaniams. One was internationally renowned pharmacologist Dr. Kumariah Balasubramaniam (1926-2011). Though I have heard about him, I never met him personally, because when I joined the Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya in 1978, he left the island to join UNCTAD, Geneva, as a senior pharmaceutical advisor. His obituary appeared in the Lancet medical journal of Aug 20, 2011. For those interested, a link follows:

My mentor was biochemist Prof. Kandiah Balasubramaniam (1932-2021). While Kumariah B. was a medical doctor, Kandiah B’s first calling was that of an apothecary (Pharmaceutical chemist). The chronologically elder one was known as ‘Bala’ or ‘Dr, Bala’. As such, the younger one earned a moniker ‘Coconut Bala’ in academic circles, mainly because his earlier postdoctoral research was on coconut. Nevertheless, his Ph.D research, conducted at the Indiana University was on thyroid gland tissues of dogs. His 1965 thesis carried the title, ‘Proteolysis in the thyroid gland and its stimulation by thyrotropin’. Sections of the thesis results appeared in the journals Endocrinology and Biochemica et Biophysica Acta in 1965 and 1966.

By Sri Lankan standards, and for his generation of scientists who stayed in Sri Lanka after the 1983 Tamil ethnic holocaust, Professor Bala was prolific. He was also an institution builder, having moved to the University of Jaffna by 1984, and served as the Department head of Biochemistry and subsequently as the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences of Sri Lanka in 1985.

I was his student in biochemistry for two years, 1973 and 1974, at the University of Colombo. As I had written in my note about Prof. Hoover last September, I didn’t impress him at all. Then, in 1975, while I served as the President of the Colombo Campus Tamil Society, Prof. Bala was the Treasurer of that society. At routine intervals, I had to visit with him, to get his approval signature for spending money for particular functions arranged by the society (such as arranging the benefit movie show, annual Tamil cultural festival for two days, printing the Ilam Kathir magazine of the society), and to submit the receipts. He was so meticulous in accounting for a single cent, and I learned from him the virtues of frugality. I gather, he spent a sabbatical leave at the University of London, and researched on coconut kernel enzymes.

M.Sc degree examiners for Sachi’s University of Peradeniya thesis defense, in 1980

Subsequently, I moved to the University of Peradeniya and researched for my Master’s degree in biochemistry, while simultaneously working as a temporary assistant lecturer. Prof. Bala was chosen as one of the two my external examiners, While the other external examiner, Prof. Mervyn Thenabadu, was somewhat lenient in his questions at the viva voce exam, now I remember Prof. Bala gave me a tough time during the thesis defense, for nearly 90 minutes. His friendship with my father notwithstanding, I realized that he was discharging his duties as an examiner impartially and didn’t wish to graduate a ‘half-baked biochemistry master’s degree’ holder from Peradeniya. I was grateful for his tough grilling then, and later I realized the difference between undergraduate studies and graduate studies.

In my condolence email sent to Prof. Bala’s daughter (Prof. Shamini Pratapan), I wrote as follows: “…. Before I left for USA, in August 1981, I did visit your house (then in Nugegoda) to say my farewell to Prof. Bala. At that time, I remember seeing a small girl, talking with Prof. I don’t know whether it could have been you or your sister. I certainly remember that your mother also came by.

Then, after I completed my Ph.D at the University of Illinois, I moved to University of Toyo in 1986. When I visited Jaffna in Nov. 1986, I visited the house where your father was living, with my father once. I remember, he requesting me to apply for the Lecturer position at the University of Jaffna then, so that I could join him. For obligations at the University of Tokyo and for personal reasons, I had to reject his kind offer. This was the last meeting I had with your father. 35 years had passed by…

I was in Jaffna, only during the first week in November. This was three weeks following the death of Lt. Col. Victor (of Panamkattikoddu, Mannar), one of the early LTTE leaders who died in action on October 12, 1986. He was only 22 years and 11 months old. This is how the four snobbish, anti-LTTE authors (all affiliated to the University of Jaffna then) of ‘Broken Palmyra’ (1990), had described the atmosphere in Jaffna:

‘The Mannar leader Victor was killed in Adampan during the skirmish with the Sri Lankan army during October 1986. Thirteen Sri Lankan army personnel were killed during this skirmish and two were captured. Victor’s body was brought to Jaffna with the two prisoners and nine Sri Lankan corpses. In the first exhibition of this kind, two prisoners and the corpses were exhibited at Nallur Kanthasamy Kovil, while thousands filed past. Victor’s body was taken in state to several parts of Jaffna to be viewed by milling crowds…” [pp. 93-94]

‘Prisoners’ was a wrong choice of word in this description! The most appropriate was ‘captives’. I was able to glimpse at the wall posters commemorating the heroism of Col. Victor and his fellow LTTE pals who also died in that Adampan battle. What I remember now about that visit with Prof. Bala 35 years ago, was the banter he and my father shared. He telling my father:

“Why not find a good girl here and get him married quickly, before he leaves?” My father couldn’t answer that question easily, but replied, “He is the one who has to decide.” Then, Prof. Bala fired the next question. ‘Probably, he has someone in mind. Did he tell you, any of his interests?” To this also, my father responded with a fake, “He is not telling us, about it.” I remained silent, pouting a smile. Then, Prof. Bala invited me to visit his lab the following day. I did visit, and he was earnest in hiring me as a lecturer, showing the modest lab, which had a refrigerator, where he stored his chemicals.

Then, Prof. Bala complained about the imposed electricity cuts by the municipality, which played havoc with the storage life of enzymes  in the refrigerator. We refrained from talking Tamil politics at that time. He inquired me about my then research at the University of Tokyo. At that time, I was studying the muscle proteins in  edible marine foods, such as sea cucumber and lobster. He said, ‘You can study them, even here in Jaffna’. But, what about the research instrument facilities? I was learning transmission electron microscopic techniques and then trendy SDS gel electrophoretic techniques, which I missed during my Ph. D. research at the University of Illinois.

Considering the prevailing troubled conditions in Jaffna then, for obvious reasons, to use a metaphor, I wished to prove my mettle by swimming in the sea, rather than in a local well. By then, I had completed nearly a year in Tokyo, and I had made up my mind to return to USA, after two more years. I also sensed a conflict of interest and expectations between us. He badly wanted a helping hand, whom he had known as a student for more than 12 years to stabilize the depleted Department of Biochemistry, but my horizons had widened to be a free scientist with my own agenda. As my first degree was in zoology, I wished to study many animals, because my research for Masters and doctoral degrees was in winged bean due to research funding and interests of my academic advisors. Thus, with much regret, I had to politely decline Prof. Bala’s offer. But, I did respect his conviction of serving the University of Jaffna, and training younger generation of biochemists, as evinced in the papers they had published with Prof. Bala as a senior author. Prof. Vasanthi Arasaratnam (later to be the Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna) was one of them.

Occasionally, I wonder, if I accepted the offer Prof. Bala made to me in November 1986, what could have happened to my life. This is a big ‘If’, God only knows the answer. I can guess, that I could have been a co-author in few of Prof. Bala’s publications. This merit, I miss now. I do envy his longevity in scientific productivity, for almost half a century, from 1965 to 2014, especially under the turbulent conditions in civil war days of Jaffna. Lastly, I admire his ‘guts’ to move to Jaffna in the post-1983 period, stay there and continue his career as a published scientist.


Publication List of Prof. K. Balasubramaniam

As I had rejected his 1986 offer for a lecturer position at the University of Jaffna, the only tribute I could pay to him from Tokyo, was to compile his near-complete publication list, for posterity.

Homonyms create problems for databases such as Google scholar, PubMed and diligent bibliographers. And they do not have a clear solution of separating two or more individuals who share the same name and initials. This becomes worse, if both individuals are contemporaries. Not only in Sri Lanka, Balasubramaniam is a common Tanil name in India as well. So, there are few more scientists answering the initial and the name K. Balasubramaniam.

The only solution to solve this dilemma is for a checker, who knows the individual’s research themes, and the work location, to separate the publications of others who share the homonym by clues, related to the co-authors and the address of specific work location. To the best of my ability, I’ve done this here, to eliminate the homonym errors rampant in PubMed and Google scholar databases. I adopt a chronological order, which indicated the changing research interests, based on the funding received, periodical relevance of the times in Prof. Bala’s life. Except a couple of abstracts, I have limited this list to 63 full papers only, from 1965 to 2014 – for almost half a century!

Balasubramaniam K, Deiss WP: Characteristics of thyroid lysosomal cathepsin. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 1965; 100: 564-575.

Balasubramaniam K, Deiss WP, Tan WC, Powell RC: Effect of thyrotropin on iodoprotein of thyroid cell fractions. Endocrinology, 1965; 77(1): 54-60.

Deiss WP, Balasubramaniam K, Peake RL, Starrett JA, Powell RC: Stimulation of proteolysis in thyroid particles by thyrotropin. Endocrinology, 1966; 79(1): 19-27.

Balasubramaniam K, Reginald GJ, Wijesundera S: Acid phosphatase isoenzymes in rat liver lysosomes. Proceedings of Ceylon Association for Advancement of Science, 1967; 23 (part 1): 64-65.

Arseculeratne SN, De Silva LM, Bandunatha C, Tennekoon GE, Wijesundera S, Balasubramaniam K. The use of tadpoles of Bufo melanostictus (Schneider), Rhacophorus leucomystax maculatus (Gray) and Uperodon sp. in the bioassay of aflatoxins. British Journal of Experimental Pathology, 1969; 50(3): 285-294.

Balasubramaniam K, Wijesundera S, Arseculeratne SN, Tennekoon GE. Effect of aflatoxins on rat liver lysosomes. Toxicon, 1969; 7(2): 159-161.

Balasubramaniam K, Sothary RD, Hoover AA: Hemicellulose in coconut kernel. Proceedings of Ceylon Association for Advancement of Science, 1969; 25: 95-96.

Balasubramaniam K, Wijesundera S: Multiple forms of acid phosphatases in the lysosomes of rat liver. Ceylon Journal of Medical Science, 1971; 20(2): 52-59.

Balasubramaniam K, Atukorala TMS, Wijesundera S, Hoover AA, De Silva MAT: Biochemical changes during germination of the coconut (Cocos nucifera). Annals of Botany, 1973; 37(3): 439-445.

Balasubramaniam K, Dey PM, Pridham JB: Association and dissociation of a-galactosidase of Coconut (Cocos nucifera typica). Biochemical Society Transactions, 1974; 2(5): 1128-1130.

Balasubramaniam K, Sothary RD, de Silva MAT: Nutritional studies on initial flowering of coconut (var. typica). Free aminoacids in leaves of bearing and non-bearing palms. Ceylon Coconut Quarterly, 1974; 25: 149-152.

Balasubramaniam K: Polysaccharides of the kernel of maturing and matured coconuts. Journal of Food Science, 1976; 41(6); 1370-1373.

Balasubramaniam K, Dey PM, Pridham JB: a-Galactosidase from coconut kernel. Phytochemistry, 1976; 15(10): 1445-1446.

Balasubramaniam K, Sihotang K. Studies on coconut protein and its enzyme activities. Journal of Food Science, 1979; 44(1): 62-65.

Balasubramaniam K, Eaker D, Karlson E: An attempt to identify amino groups of Naja naja siamensis neurotoxin that interact with acetylcholine receptor by a comparison of their reactivities in free and receptor-bound neurotoxin. Toxicon, 1983; 21(2): 219-229.

Balasubramaniam K, Mathew CD: Purification of a-galactosidase from coconut endosperm by affinity chromatography. Journal of National Science Council of Sri Lanka, 1984; 12(1): 113-127.

Balasubramaniam K, Mathew CD: Purification of a-galactosidase from coconut. Phytochemistry, 1986; 25(8): 1819-1821.

Mathew CD, Balasubramaniam K: Chemical modification of a-galactosidase from coconut. Phytochemistry, 1986; 25(11): 2439-2443.

Mathew CD, Balasubramaniam K: Mechanism of a-galactosidase. Phytochemistry, 1987; 26(5): 1299-1300.

Arasaratnam V, Balasubramaniam K: Immobilization of alpha-amylase and glucoamylase to sepharose-4B. Journal of National Science Council of Sri Lanka, 1987; 15(2): 217-226.

Balasubramaniam K, Arasaratnam V, Seevaratnam S, Thirumagal K, Ageswaran A: Hypoglycaemic effect of Gymnema sylvestre on diabetic patients. Jaffna Medical Journal, 1988; 23 (1-2): 49-53.

Balasubramaniam K, Arasaratnam V. Kinetic studies on soluble and immobilized alpha amylase and glucoamylase. Journal of National Science Council of Sri Lanka, 1989; 17(1): 91-97.

Balasubramaniam K, Alles NH: A preliminary study of the invertase activity in coconut. Annals of Botany, 1989; 64(3): 253-255.

Balasubramaniam K, Seevaratnam S, Arasaratnam V, Pasupathy N: Blood glucose level in response to carbohydrate meals with varying fibre content. Jaffna Medical Journal, 1989; 24: 19-22.

Balasubramaniam K, Mahendran S: Corn malt amylases for saccharification of starch in corn. Journal of Microbial Biotechnology, 1990; 5(2): 42-46.

Arasaratnam V, Balasubramaniam K: Synergistic action of alpha amylase and glucoamylase on raw starch. Journal of Microbial Biotechnology, 1992; 7(1): 37-46.

Balasubramaniam K, Arasaratnam V, Nageswaran A, Anushiyanthan S, Mugunthan N: Studies on the effect of Gymnema sylvestre on diabetics. Journal of National Science Council of Sri Lanka, 1992; 20(1): 81-89.

Kasinathan S, Yapa PAJ, Balasubramaniam K: A preliminary study of some aspects of distribution of phospholipids and yield and flow properties of Hevea latex. Vidyodaya Journal of Science, 1992; 4(1): 233-242.

Balasubramaniam K, Wijeratna S: Growth and sucrose phosphorylase activity in Pseudomonas saccharophila. Journal of National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka, 1993; 21(2): 201-207.

Arasaratnam V, Balasubramaniam K: Synergistic action of a-amylase and glycoamylase on raw corn. Starch-Starke, 1993; 45(6): 231-233.

Mahendran S, Balasubramaniam K, Sivaganeshan K: Mechanical extraction of palmyrah fruit pulp. Bioprocess Engineering, 1993; 8(5): 301-302.

Arasaratnam V, Balasubramaniam K: Hydrolysis of macromolecules in corn flour and their filtrability. Journal of Science and Society Thailand, 1993; 19: 37-45.

Arasaratnam V, Murugapoopathy T, Balasubramaniam K: Effect of pH on preparation and performance of physically immobilized amyloglucosidase on DEAE-cellulose. Starch-Starke, 1994; 46(4): 146-149.

Arasaratnam V, Balasubramaniam K: The hydrolysis of starch in wet and dry milled corn. International Sugar Journal, 1994; 96 (1149): 368-370.

Arasaratnam V, Balasubramaniam K: Thermal stabilization of immobilized a-amylase by coupling with proline. Process Biochemistry, 1995; 30(4): 299-303.

Arasaratnam V, Sritharan K, Balasubramaniam K: Two steps procedure for the purification of corn flour hydrolysate. Starch-Starke, 1995; 47(5); 182-184.

Arasaratnam V, Balasubramaniam K, Rajendra S, Raghavan S: Biomedical changes in beedi smokers. Journal of National Science Council of Sri Lanka, 1995; 23(3): 91-96.

Murugapoopathy T, Varavinit S, Arasaratnam V, Balasubramaniam K: Studies on amylolysis of different rice products during a liquefaction process using thermostable alpha-amylase. ASEAN Journal of Science Technology and Development, 1995; 12(1): 43-57.

Navaratnam P, Arasaratnam V, Mahendran S, Balasubramaniam K: Formulation of medium and recycling of biomass for glucoamylase production by Botryodiplodia theobromae. Process Biochemistry, 1996; 31(1): 77-80.

Arasaratnam V, Senturan A, Balasubramaniam K: Supplementation of whey with glucose and different nitrogen sources for lactic acid production by Lactobacillus delbrueckii. Enzyme and Microbial Technology, 1996; 19(7): 482-486.

Arasaratnam V, Mylvaganam K, Balasubramaniam K: Paddy husk support and rice bran for the production of glucoamylase by Aspergillus niger. International Journal of Food Science & Technology, 1997; 32(4): 299-304.

Navaratnam P, Arasaratnam V, Balasubramaniam K: Channelling of glucose by methanol for citric acid production from Aspergillus niger. World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology, 1998; 14(4): 559-563.

Arasaratnam V, Thayananthan K, Balasubramaniam K: Sugar syrup (DE 50-70) from corn flour. Starch-Starke, 1998; 50(2-3): 95-98.

Arasaratnam V, Balasubramaniam K. The use of monochloroacetic acid for improved ethanol production by immobilized Saccharomyces cerevisiae World Journal of Microbiology & Biotechnology, 1998; 14: 107-111.

Arasaratnam V, Sritharan K, Nithiyanantharajah N, Balasubramaniam K: Large scale preparation of crystalline glucose from raw starch in corn flour. Starch-Starke, 1998; 50(6): 264-266.

Arasaratnam V, Mylvaganam K, Balasubramaniam K: Improving corn malting and preparation of malt extract using exogenous and endogenous amylases. ASEAN Journal of Science Technology and Development, 1998; 15(2): 27-36.

Balakumar S, Arasaratnam V, Balasubramaniam K: Improved performance of amberlite IRA-904 immobilized glucoamylase. Starch-Starke, 1998; 50(2-3): 93-95.

Senthuran A, Arasaratnam V, Balasubramaniam K: Neutralising lactic acid produced by Lactobacillus casei with calcium carbonate. Journal of National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka, 1999; 27(2): 107-117.

Balasubramaniam K, Jansz ER, Ariyasena DO: Palmyrah – A Monograph, International Program in Chemical Sciences (IPICS), Uppsala, Sweden, 1999, 38 pp.

Arasaratnam V, Balasubramaniam K: Viability of calcium alginate entrapped Lactobacillus casei during continuous lactic acid production. Journal of National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka, 2000; 28(3): 155-163.

Balakumar S, Arasaratnam V, Balasubramaniam K: Isolation and improvement of a thermotolerant Saccaromyces cerevisiae strain. World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology, 2001; 17(7): 739-746.

Arasaratnam V, Mylvaganam K, Balasubramaniam K: Glucoamylase production by Aspergillus niger in solid state fermentation with paddy husk as support. Journal of Food Science and Technology (Mysore), 2001; 38(4): 334-338.

Balasubramaniam K, Sumanthira S, Mikunthan G: Gymnema sylvestre: a functional food for diabetes. Journal of Tropical Medicinal Plants, 2006; 7(2): 191.

Bandara T, Jansz ER, Ekanayaka S, Balasubramaniyam K: Effects of a plant material PE053 on glycaemic and lipidaemic status of type 2 diabetic Long-Evans rats. Diabetologia, 2007; 50: S378-S378 (abstract).

Bandara T, Rokeya B, Khan S, Ali L, Ekanayake S, Jansz ER, Balasubramaniam K: Effects of Gymnema lactiferum leaf on glycemic and lipidemic status in type 2 diabetic subjects. Bangladesh Journal of Pharmacology, 2009; 4(2): 92-95.

Bandara WVRTDG, Ekanayake S, Jansz ER, Balasubramaniam K: The hypocholesterolaemic effect of Canthium coromandelicum leaf on Wistar rats. Vidyodaya Journal of Science, 2009; 14: 105-109.

Bandara WVRTDG, Ekanayake S, Jansz ER, Balasubramaniam K: Canthium coromandelicum leaf as a functional food. Vidyodaya Journal of Science, 2009; 14: 105-109.

Bandara WVRTDG, Jansz ER, Ekanayake S, Balasubramaniam K: Preparation and storage of Pinnatu destroys the hypocholesteroleaemic effect of palmyrah fruit pulp. Vidyodaya Journal of Science, 2009; 14: 85-93.

Bandara T, Rokeya B, Khan S, Ali L, Ekanayake S, Jansz ER, Balasubramaniam K: Effect of Gymnema lactiferum leaf on glycemic and lipidemic status in type 2 diabetic subjects. Bangladesh Journal of Pharmacology, 2009; 4(2): 92-95.

Bandara WVRTDG, Ekanayake S, Jansz ER, Balasubramaniam K: Effects of Gymnema lactiferum leaf on serum glucose and cholesterol levels of normo^glycaemic Wistar rats. Vidyodaya Journal of Science, 2010; 15(1-2): 1-6.

Kanesharatnam N, Eswaramohan T, Balasubramaniam K: A preliminary study for sperm sexing by using sucrose density gradients in Jersey bull at Artificial Insemination Centre at Thirunelvely (Northern Province of Sri Lanka). Proceedings of International Conference on BioScience, Biochemistry and Bioinformatics, 2012, vol. 31, pp. 37-40.

Kanesharatnam N, Eswaramohan T, Balasubramaniam K: Fractionation of X and Y chromosome-bearing bovine spermatozoa through sugar gradients for sex predetermination in dairy cattle. International Journal of Bioscience, Biochemistry and Bioinformatics, 2012; 2(3): 203-206.

Eswaramohan T, Nilani K, Sureka P, Mahadhevan P, Balasubramaniam K: A study on the effects of chilling period on sperm quality of Sannan and Jamunapari goats. Iranian Journal of Applied Animal Science, 2014; 4(1): 205-207.

Posted .

Filed under Sri Kantha.

Leave a Reply

Comment Guilelines Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. No personal attacks.

  • (will not be published)