CEMB_optBy Muhammad Israr

DURING THE latter half of the 20th century, the focus of science shifted towards molecular biology. Although late, Pakistan joined the bandwagon of research with the establishment of its first research centre namely Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology (CEMB). It is one of the best research centres in the Islamic world attracting students from all over Pakistan as well as abroad. It completed its century of PhDs in 2012. Situated on the west bank of the picturesque Canal Road Lahore, it presents a mix of modern and Islamic architecture. During its 25 years of existence, it has contributed a lions share to research in Pakistan.

In the spring of 1985, the University of the Punjab established nucleus laboratories in its Department of Zoology. Soon construction work began on the new site for a purpose built campus on an area of about 67 acres. It was designed by renowned Pakistani architect Pervez Iqbal. Upon entering the main gate, one is surprised to see the majestic floral street leading up to the main buildings. Moreover, the lush green lawns, adorned with flowers present a view which is reminiscent of the Mughal era gardens. The main compound has two buildings covering a total of more than 7000 square meters. The administrative building is akin to that of Taj Mahal – all four sides look the same. Punctuated with domes, the research building is an example of Islamic architecture. The Laboratory Block is divided into four separate research units comprising a total of 20 research laboratories and four conference rooms. There is a production unit and one support facilities unit comprising a Lab-aid Section (for washing, autoclaving and media preparation), an Animal House, an Insectary, six large Plant Growth Rooms, and storage space for research materials. The Teaching Block consists of a well equipped Library, Seminar Hall, Photography, Computer Rooms, a Conference Hall, Directors Office, Administration and Accounts Section.

There is a self service canteen, a dining hall, and two hostels for research scholars with a total of 54 furnished rooms. Moreover, there are two luxury buildings: a hostel for foreign students and an apartment block for faculty.

The emphasis is on quality and not quantity. This can be judged from the fact that every year in the month of July, hundreds of hopefuls apply for admission of which only 30 are selected. Of this, almost 50 per cent join the M.Phil programme while the rest go on to carry out research for a Ph. D. degree. Moreover, only 1 or 2 scholars are sent to each lab annually, providing them ample amount of space and other research facilities. Main laboratories are Plant Sciences, Stem Cell Research, Forensic Research, Genetic Diseases, Medical Genetics, Bioinformatics, Biopharmaceuticals, Molecular Medicine, Molecular Virology, Functional Genomics and Immunology. These labs have further research groups working in different areas. Besides its own graduates, CEMB serves host to a large number of research students as well as guest researchers from different institutes locally as well as internationally.

As research in general and molecular biology in particular is an expensive business to do, CEMB often has collaborations with many national and international research institutes. These include National Institute of Health (NIH) USA, University of Cincinnati, University of Washington, University of Arizona, Johns-Hopkins University, Brigham Young University and US Department of Agriculture.

CEMB researchers have made a great contribution to Molecular Biology. Recently, CEMB has made Bt transgenic rice, Bt transgenic cotton and virus-free gladiolus, potato and tomato. Several kits are made for the PCR-based diagnosis of HCV and HBV. A total of 11 new deafness loci, 3 vision impairment loci and 17 new genes are discovered here. All these results have been published in the form of research papers in more than 100 international journals of high reputation including Nature, American Journal of Human Genetics, European Journal of Human Genetics, Molecular Vision, Virology Journal, Infectious Diseases, PLoS, Differentiation, Forensic Science International and International Journal of Legal Medicine. Besides, CEMB holds the rights to 7 patents for inventions made by its scientists. In recognition of these achievements, Islamic Development Bank conferred it with Science and Technology Prize in 2008.

Despite its limited financial resources and technical know-how, CEMBs researchers are trying their best to contribute to the existing body of knowledge inside and outside the country. Presently, graduates from CEMB are serving in prestigious institutes locally as well as internationally in advanced countries like USA, Germany, UK, Japan, France, Spain, Sweden, Korea, Austria, Australia, Italy and many more around the world. We hope that in the future, our researchers will continue to illuminate the world.

The writer is PhD (Forensic Sciences)

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