Dr. Maya Gunasekera
Founder of Genetech
1961 - 2006
Dr. Maya Gunasekera founded Genetech in 2002 to develop the field of biotechnology in Sri Lanka. She pioneered the use of DNA testing in forensic casework in Sri Lanka, and was involved in almost all DNA typing tests done in Sri Lanka until the time of her death. Research teams led by Maya developed the first DNA probe for the malaria vector, Anopheles culicifacies, introduced a new molecular test for the early diagnosis of dengue, pioneered genetic work on the Sri Lankan elephant and resolved the taxonomic status of a fruit bat species complex. In 1999, Maya gave expert evidence on DNA typing for the Hokandara murder trial making history as the first court case to accept DNA evidence in Sri Lanka.
Maya had been involved in many national and international ventures. She served as a consultant for several committees of the Government Ministries, including the National Task force for Dengue prevention and control. At the National Science Foundation, Colombo, she served as the Chairperson of the Working Committee on Biotechnology. She also served as the Governor for International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) representing Sri Lanka, and as the coordinator for the drafting of National Policy and Guidelines for the safe use of Recombinant DNA Technology in Sri Lanka.
Maya was not only a dedicated researcher but also an excellent teacher. As a senior lecturer in the Department of Chemistry, she co-coordinated the development of the syllabus for the first BSc Special degree programme in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry offered at a university in Sri Lanka. She taught people from various walks of life and delivered numerous lectures to police officers, lawyers, doctors and school children. She primarily focused on teaching and sharing her expertise on the application of DNA technology. Even when she was not in the best of health, she continued to do her duty towards society with immense courage and dedication.
She received many awards in appreciation of her work both by local and international bodies. The International Foundation for Science in Sweden awarded their Jubilee Award to Maya in 2003 in recognition of her work. The Third World Academy of Sciences, Italy and the NSF, Colombo together awarded her the Young Scientist Award in Biology in 2002. Maya received one of the David Fussy Alumni scholarships, granted to only three persons per year from all the Commonwealth countries. Subsequently, she obtained a PhD in Molecular Parasitology from the National Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill, London. The award for excellence in research by the University of Colombo, NSF – Sri Lanka Merit Award for Biotechnology, British Council Assert Award and President’s Research Bonus Award were also among the long list of her achievements.
Prior to obtaining her PhD, Maya studied at Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo and obtained her BSc degree with First Class Honours from the University of Colombo. She also worked as a Research Assistant at the Malaria Research Unit of the Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo.