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How Pakistan changed the world of Biology

Written by Saman Ansari

Updated August 14, 2018

From the mighty dinosaur to the minute particle of the DNA that can perhaps recreate it, the world of biology is immensely vast like the universe itself. Looking back at the 70 years of independence of Pakistan we take a look at how this country and its people contributed to this wonderful field. And we are not talking about a few research papers, we are talking about major contributions that changed the world.

  1. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui

Pioneering the field of biology in Pakistan, Dr. Salim’s contributions cannot be ignored. Inspired by Hakim Ajmal Khan, Dr. Salim isolated compounds in as early as 1931 (in united India) from devil pepper (Rauwolfia serpentina) and brought to light its antiarrhythmic properties to the world. It is now used in cardiovascular disease and mental disorder medications.

Dr Salimuzzaman Siddiqui

After the creation of Pakistan he worked in the University of Karachi and was the first scientist to bring the anthelmintic, antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral constituents of Pakistan’s famous ‘Neem’ (Azadirachta indica) tree. He isolated nimbidin an antibacterial agent from Azadirachta indica. He also played a notable role in bringing biopesticides to the world.

He served as chairman of Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) and director of the famous ‘HEJ’ Hussain Ebrahim Jamal Research Institute of Chemistry, Karachi. In due time, Dr. Siddiqui transformed the institute into a distinguished centre of international excellence in the field of chemistry and natural products. This institute is still functional today. He earned several awards like Hilal-e-Imtiaz. He was the man behind the establishment of the Third World Academy of Sciences in 1983 and became its Founding Fellow.

If you think scientists lack creativity you may want to rethink this as scientific research is for the creative minds and there’s no other way to it. Dr. Siddiqui was not only famous for his selfless hard work (not going home for days) but also for his paintings and his love for poetry. He passed away in 1994 in Karachi.

  1. Bina Shaheen Siqqiqui

Dr. Bina Siddiqui is an acclaimed scientist with many achievements. Also, Dr. Siddiqui, she has made significant contributions to medicine and agriculture through her study and classification of indigenous plant materials.

Dr. Bina Shaheen

She has been awarded 12 patents for anti-cancer constituents and biopesticides and has written more than 250 research articles. Pakistan Academy of Sciences elected her as a Fellow. She also has to her credit the co-founding of the Third World Organization for Women in Science.

Her area of research also includes discovery of new molecules important in medicine and agriculture and preparation of bioactive molecules among many other topics.

  1. Atta Ur Rahman

No list of Pakistani biologists is complete without mentioning Dr. Rahman’s achievements. He is one of the most notable biologists in the country as he served as chairman of Higher Education Commission (HEC), Pakistan and now leads United Nation’s committee on Science and Technology.

To start with, he has published not 20, not 30 but an astounding 52 volumes of ‘Studies in Natural Product Chemistry’ published by the prestigious Elsevier. Not only that he has, over 843 publications in leading international journals in several fields of organic chemistry including 663 research publications, 18 patents, 103 books and 59 chapters in books published by major U.S. and European presses.

Dr. Atta Ur Rahman is known to be leader in modern 2D NMR Spectroscopy and the first in the world to publish a textbook that has detailed discussion on 2D NMR Spectroscopy.

  1. Rabia Hussain

Dr. Rabia Hussain, born and bred in Pakistan is Ph.D. in Immunology and is a distinguished national professor and a renowned scientist. She is famous for her research in immunology of infectious diseases specifically Allergens (any substance that causes allergy) and has been carrying out research since 1972. She has currently around 113 publications to her name and has authored 3 book chapters.

She is also a winner of many international and national awards some of which are; National Research Council Associate ship award, The Berson-Yalow Award for developing radioimmunoassay techniques, Tamgha-e-Imtiaz National award (twice) for research and education in medicine and she was also awarded The Abdus Salam Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) Award in Basic Medical Sciences.

She is currently Professor of Microbiology in world renowned Aga Khan University in Karachi and is working hard to spread her knowledge there. Till date, she is an inspiration to many young Pakistani scientists.

  1. Qasim Mehdi

Renowned molecular biologist, Prof. S. Qasim Mehdi, was the founding director of four genetic institutes in Pakistan. He also co-founded the Human Genome Diversity Project in Stanford University.

Dr Mehdi was serving as the chairman of the Center for Human Genetics at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) and was also a visiting professor at Karachi University before passing away last year at the age of 75.

6.  Johar Ali

The only Pakistani in the Human Genome Project was Dr. Johar Ali. After completing his Ph.D, Dr. Ali

Dr. Johar Ali

joined Washington University, School of Medicine to work in the areas of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology and worked in the high profile human genome project. He was subsequently offered a job in BC Cancer agency Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada where he led a team of scientists in the area of bioinformatics and ran several multimillion dollars projects to completions.

Working as a Team Leader in the area of cancer genomics at Ontario Institute for Cancer Research for 6.5 years, Dr. Ali was involved in setting up the genome center from designing, planning and executing a variety of genomics related projects. Recently, he left a Research Director position and joined Rehman Medical Institute, Peshawar, as Head of genomics. Dr. Ali has published in Science, Nature, BMC and PLOS with a total of 400 impact points. He is the recipient of numerous international awards including certificate of excellence at international meeting held in Pennsylvania USA, Kempster memorial scholarship USA, and F21C summer fellowship USA. Dr. Ali is also the recipient of “Spirit of Detroit Award for outstanding leadership” in Michigan, USA.

7. Syed Tajamul Hussain

Dr. Hussain was a famous nanotechnologist, mainly credited for his work on nano-catalytic dewaxing of heavy petroleum wastes, a method of manufacture of silver oxide nano particles and  a nano-catalyst for fast track bio-diesel production from non-edible oils. He held patents for all these new methods.

He also authored a number of important and highly cited publications in renowned journals of chemistry. Other than professional publications, he also wrote an A-Level Chemistry book for intermediate students in Pakistan. He passed away in 2013 in Islamabad.

8. Muhammad Arshad Rafiq

Dr. Muhammad Arshad Rafiq

A little after the Human Genome Project was completed in early 2000s, a team of scientists discovered the structural variants in the human genome and mapped them. Structural variations are of many types they can be as small as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and as large copy number variants (CNVs) and inversions of genes. Dr. Rafiq was an important part of this team who represented Department of Biosciences, Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS) University Islamabad, in Canada in 2006.

He later went on to discover novel mutations in Pakistani Baloch population suffering from Cohen Syndrome. These mutations were causing autism like symptoms in them. Cohen Syndrome (COH1) is a rare autosomal recessive disorder, typically identified by ocular, neural and muscular deficits and does not otherwise cause autism like symptoms.

He also played a pivotal role in identifying a novel gene connected with a type of intellectual disability called Joubert syndrome. He, along with his colleges found out that this gene, when defective, leads to Joubert syndrome. Dr. Rafiq was also involved in mapping autosomal recessive genes that cause intellectual disability.

Due to his achievements he received Research Productivity Award (RPA) for 3 years; 2004, 2005 and 2006, by Pakistan Council for Science and Technology, Pakistan. He also received gold medal from the Pakistan Academy of Sciences in Biochemistry in 2010. He’s now serving as Head of Department in the Department of Biosciences in COMSATS University Islamabad (CUI).

Concluding, the list doesn’t end here. There are many more Pakistani biologists who are changing this world. Comment below the name of the biologist who has inspired you and we will compile another list.





The Scientist Who Painted: Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui



About the author

Saman Ansari

Saman is the founder of the first biology centric platform in Pakistan. She loves to digitalize science by writing and illustrating. She holds a masters degree in Virology and is interested in emerging viruses, vaccines and science magazines.

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