Muslim Contributions to Indian Science-2
Professor Obaid Siddiqi: Nation’s Pride By Zafar Iqbal, Ph.D., 19105 Warrior Brook Drive, Germantown, Maryland
India has produced many stalwart scholars and scientists in recent times. A few of them have earned Nobel Prize after they became expatriate. On the other hand, for those who opt to work in India, a membership to the US National Academy of Sciences is considered the highest international scientific recognition of their contribution to science. Professor Obaid Siddiqi is one of a few non-US citizens inducted as a Fellow of the prestigious scientific academy. This fellowship bestowed on him brings an honor to the country of his residence, India. The Indian Diaspora joins the citizen of India in feeling proud for Dr. Siddiqi’s achievement.
Obaid Siddiqi started his scientific career at the Aligarh Muslim University as a lecturer after graduating from the university. His romance with molecular biology began long before it became the ‘cool’ area of research of modern times. Realizing Obaid’s inclination towards the field, his teacher-cum-colleague Riyasat Khan of AMU’s Botany Department encouraged him to work on mapping of rust-resistance genes in wheat at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in Delhi. He then proceeded to work for his PhD at the Department of Genetics at the University of Glasgow. Even before he had completed his degree, Obaid was offered a post-doctoral position at the MIT to work with a giant in genetics filed, Dr. Alan Garen. Alan Garen later moved to the University of Pennsylvania and took his postdoctoral colleague with him. Together they discovered the suppressors of “nonsense” mutations that led to the discovery of “nonsense” codons, the stop signals in the genetic code. In early seventies, his work with Professor Benzer of the California Institute of Technology led to the identification of several genes that control nerve conduction and synaptic transmission. Obaid and his associates’ pioneering work on neurogenetics of fruit fly, Drosophila, has opened up the prospects of an integrated genetic and neurobiological investigation of chemosensory perception.
Obaid’s desire to return to India was fulfilled when Homi Bhabha of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, invited him to start a molecular biology group at the institute in early 1960s. Obaid recruited top-class scientists and put the TIFR’s molecular biology group on world map of genetics. Later, with the support of government of India, he founded TIFR’s National Center for Biological Sciences at Bangalore. The mandate of this Center is basic research in the frontier areas of biology and currently it has many distinguished scholars working in various fields of science with state-of-the-art facilities testifying that Obaid’s brainchild, NCBS, will one day flourish into a research institute of international repute.
Obaid has mentored energetic scholars, who have distinguished themselves in the field of genetics and are occupying highly visible academic positions in India and abroad. The list includes: R. N. Singh, Vijay Sarthy, Satpal Singh, Sheela Dhonde, Veronica Roderiques, Kavita Arora, V. C. Jayaram, Shahid Siddiqui, Ravi Rajan, Rashid Mistry, Swati Joshi, Champakali Ayub, and Anil Gupta.
Obaid’s name is held in high esteem among the biologists. He has published hundreds of original research papers and articles in internationally recognized scientific journals and lectured at prestigious institutions. He has been awarded almost all distinguished scientific honors. He has been a visiting Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Gosney Fellow and twice Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Scholar at the California Institute of Technology. He is a life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University. A past president of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy, the National Science Academy, The Royal Society of London, the Third World Academy of Sciences Trieste, and Foreign Associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Washington. Prof. Siddiqi is a recipient of the Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar Prize, The Aryabhat Medal, The Indian National Science Academy Jubilee Medal, The Goyal Prize, the Birla Smarak Kosh Award for Biological Sciences, Bhasin Award, GM Modi Innovative Science and Technology Award, The B.C. Roy Award for Biomedical Research, and the Indian civil honor Padam Bhushan.
The Aligarh Muslim University, Banaras Hindu University and Jamia Hamdard have conferred honorary D.Sc. degrees on Professor Siddiqi.
Obaid Siddiqi was born on 7th January 1932 in Basti to a family of scholars. His siblings have also distinguished themselves in academic medicine, science, engineering, social, and literary fields. In his youth, he wanted to be a professional photographer; however, it appears that his uncle’s persuasion directed him to science and his ambition to photographing turned into ‘mapping’ of nature’s mysteries. Although he is in his early seventies, he keeps himself engrossed in scientific research as an Emeritus Professor of Molecular Biology at the NCBS. It is good to know that Obaid’s life is not just science; he has a keen interest in sports and literature. He is very fond of Urdu poetry and Allama Iqbal’s following verse fits him well: BaRi mushkil se hota hae chaman meiN deedawar paeda.
The material help he received from Professor Indira Chowdhry of TIFR Archives, Bangalore is highly appreciated.
Top science award for Aligharian
Dr. Shahid Jameel is the second Aligarian to receive the
prestigious Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar Award in 2000 after a gap of a quarter
century, when Professor Obaid Siddiqui was honored with the award. Instituted in
1957 by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Department of Science
and Technology, government of India, the Bhatnagar Award is the most coveted
science and technology prize in India. This meritorious award is given to Indian
citizens who are under 45 years of age and have made outstanding contribution to
knowledge and progress of science while working in India. In addition to a
citation and a plaque, the prize carries a cash award of Rs. 200,000. Shahid is
also a recipient of many national and international awards and has been elected
to membership of distinguished scientific societies, such as the Guha Research
Conference, American Society for Microbiology, Indian Academy of Sciences, and
the National Academy of Sciences, India. He is also serving as a member of
different academic and scientific research committees and editorial boards of
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