Seminar at University of Agriculture, Faisalabad

Biotechnology needed for advancement in Agriculture

Though it might be a clichéd phrase, scientists and farmers believe that innovation through biotechnology is the only savior of agriculture in Pakistan. It is high time that we accept this is as the rapid crop technology for advancement in agriculture. This was said during a seminar in University of Agriculture Faisalabad. The seminar was titled “Challenges and Opportunities in Genetically Modified Organisms for Agriculture”. The major audience consisted of prominent scientists, progressive farmers and media personnel.

The common feeling at the seminar was that biotechnology not only increases productivity but also caters to the environmental aspect as well. The technology is cost effective and also less labor intensive as others so must be adopted at a larger scale.

Experts were of the idea that a major problem in Pakistan has been that Agriculture has not been prioritized in the manner that it should have been. Only concrete steps on behalf of the government would be able to harness maximum possible output from agriculture. It is quite necessary for the unstable economy of Pakistan.

Notable speakers at the seminar included University of Agriculture VC Dr. Iqrar Ahmad Khan, Farmers Associate Pakistan President Dr. Tariq Bucha, notable national biotechnologist Dr. Kauser Abdulla Malik and Monsanto Regulatory Lead for Asia Harvey Glick.

Dr. Iqrar was of the opinion that scientists in the country are working tirelessly for improving the state of agriculture in Pakistan. He further added that they have taken the challenge to feed the 180 million inhabitants of Pakistan. There is a need for revision and importantly the presence of policy framework for the agricultural sector.

Dr. Tariq Bucha also carried forward the argument that the fate of agriculture was dependent on the policy makers in the country. Due to faulty policy framework, agriculture has been at standstill for quite some time. He also stressed that the federal and provincial governments should be aware of their duties in this regard.

Dr. Kauser added an important point when he talked about food security. He clarified that food security is not about agricultural produce, but also its nutritious value. He backed his stance with the Nutrition Survey Report (2011) that said that 58% of the population suffered from food insecurity.

Harvey Glick had joined the seminar through a video link and underscored the notion that biotechnology offers a variety of solutions in this era of “gene revolution”.

He pointed out that some 12 million farmers from 25 countries were harvesting biotech crops on 200 million hectares. He disclosed that his company was in the final stages of introducing stress tolerant varieties, which would be introduced in the US during this year. “I see great potential for biotech crops in Pakistan,”he said.


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Latest on Personalized Medicine

Personalized Medicine-A Perspective

With the advent of Human Genome Project, the domain of personalized medicine has developed. However an important thing to realize is that the human genome presents somewhat of a “moving target”. This means that we are still a long way from interpreting the individual genome accurately. The complete premise of personalized medicine borders on the fact that we are able to assess the personal genome of an individual accurately.

A very simple example of this mobility of the genome is represented by hair loss in men. This indicates that the genome structure is changing with age. This phenomenon is now being studied by Kiho Cho at the Shriners Hospitals for Children, Northern California. This concept of hair loss can be similarly applied to disease based phenotypes as well. Juvenile cancer cases are less than adult cancers.

Cho and his co-workers have reported their findings in Experimental and Molecular Pathology. The purpose of this study has been to study the genome changes as per the age. Transposon activity of retroelements has also been noted to provide a clearer picture. Cho found that in mice liver tissue, the size of the genome increased with age. Furthermore, he and his colleagues were also able to find that the copy number of retro elements (of sub families) had increased by two fold. Their findings are important in the sense that now we know that retro elements will play a better role in the understanding of personal genome.

“DNA is changing spatially and temporally, meaning that within one subject — in this case an inbred mouse — depending on the tissue type, the structure of DNA is different,” Cho says. “And also, depending on the age, within the same tissue type, the DNA structure is changing. It is likely that DNA structure is unique for the individual cell, although we don’t yet have as much data on that as we would like at this point.”

An important insight that can be derived from this study is that now personalized medicine faces a newer challenge before it can be made common. New research and revision of protocol is required for better interpretation of the structural transformations of any individual’s genome. The next thing that would be targeted is whether these changes are cell specific or not. This would be helpful for cancer related studies.

Cho is of the idea that if we are able to highlight the structural changes and their correlation with diseases process, we would be able to come up with better prognostic markers.










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2012 BIO International Convention

2012 BIO International Convention Closes in Boston with Unprecedented Partnering Activity within BIO Business Forum

The 2012 BIO International Convention, a global event for biotechnology was held today at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in Boston, Mass., putting on a record of escorting 25,291 meetings and highlighting a wide array of topmost spokesmen addressing critical global challenges and the top issues in biotechnology. The happening which was hosted by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) drew 16,505 industry leaders from 49 states and 65 countries.

According to the president and CEO of BIO, Jim Greenwood; “This week’s BIO International Convention was an extraordinary success. The actual worth of the event was bringing together more than 16,000 industry leaders for partnering discussions and deal-making activities. The over-arching opinion that is common amongst the attendees is a progressive attitude for the future of our industry.  The business connections, knowledge and partnerships born here this week will help drive the global biotechnology community and economic growth if we constantly put in our efforts to develop cures, develop medicines and revolutionize other technologies that will make our world a safer, cleaner and healthier place.”

More than 100 of the attendees were international with the largest delegation in the lieu of Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Australia, China and Brazil (in order). The covenant drew attendees from 49 states with the largest depiction from Massachusetts, California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, District of Columbia, North Carolina, Illinois and Virginia (in order).

Moreover six U.S. governors attended this year’s event: Governor Steve Beshear (KY), Goveror Dennis Daugaard (SD), Governor Deval Patrick (MA), Governor Bev Perdue (NC), Governor Rick Perry (TX) and Governor Pat Quinn (IL).

Adding to it, more than 100 top public officials attended this concord.

-First-time governmental-level participation from Turkey and Algeria,

-High-level participation for the first time from chief developing markets Russia and South Africa,

-First-time presence of His Royal Highness Felipe, Prince of Asturias (Spain),

-International leadership award that was presented to Minister of Universities and Science (U.K.), The Rt. Hon. David Willetts.

The concord introduced more than 88 speakers in 125 breakout sittings across 14 tracks, speaking about the modern scientific, policy and business opportunities as well as the challenges that the biotechnology industries are facing today.

The BIO Business Forum not only linked biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies but also connected academic research organizations and investors from around the world for one-on –one meetings to converse probable partnerships and alliances. They also hosted partnering meetings between 2,900 companies and 190 company presentations. New this year, exhibitor association hosted 4,300 partnering meetings within the BIO Exhibition.

The BIO Exhibition encompassed 34 country and 26 state pavilions. In addition to this the 180,550 sq. ft. BIO Exhibition featured more than 2,000 exhibitors.

The BIO International Convention is the world’s leading event for the biotechnology industry. Event will be held from April 22-25 in Chicago next year, Illinois at McCormick Place.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn said, “The bioscience industry is thriving, thanks to our central geography, our commitment to supporting emerging technologies, and companies big and small that also value a bioscience ecosystem. We are proud to welcome everyone back to Chicago and the Midwest for the 2013 BIO International Convention.”

For session coverage, please visit;

And for industry reports released this week, please visit .

BIO International Convention assists BIO programs and initiatives. BIO works all over the year to generate a policy environment that empowers the industry to continue to fulfill its idea of improving the world with the help of biotechnology innovation.

Upcoming BIO Events include:

  • BIO India International Conference September 12-13, 2012 Mumbai, India
  • Livestock Biotech Summit September 19-21, 2012 Kansas City, MO
  • BIO Investor Forum October 9-10, 2012 San Francisco, CA
  • Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy October 10-12, 2012 Vancouver, BC Canada
  • The BIO Convention in China October 24-25, 2012 Shanghai, China
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River Ravi Commission’s First Meeting

Dr. Kauser leads Ravi Commission

Dr. Kauser Abdulla Malik, (Hilal-i-Imtiaz, Sitara-I-Imtiaz, Tamgha-I-Imtiaz, Distinguished National Professor, Pakistan) who is the Chief Executive of InVitro Vogue-The Biotech Company(  is leading a commission which has been designed to identify nature and source of wastewater being discharged into the Ravi. This Commission was constituted by the Lahore High Court Green Bench on 8th June 2012. The commission consists of Dr. Kauser Malik, Jawad Rafique (Lahore Commissioner), Javed Iqbal (Wasa Managing Director), Saeed Wahla (Environment Secretary), Waqar Zikria (Environmental expert), Ali Habib (WWF director), Dr. Anjum Altaf (Dean, LUMS School of Social Sciences), Ahmed Rafay Alam (Advocate), Kamil Mumtaz Khan, Irfan Qaiser Sheikh (Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry President).

The commission has been setup in response to the petitions that were filed by Pakistan Environmental Law Association and the Lahore Conservation Society. They targeted the disposal of wastewater in Ravi, particularly by industries.

Yesterday, the first meeting of the River Ravi Commission was held. Dr. Kauser chaired the meeting, and all the aforementioned people were present in the meeting as well. The objective of the meeting was to make aware the participants of the aim of the commission as per the directive of the high court. Dr. Kauser highlighted that the commission had been formed to revert River Ravi to its original state and also stop further contamination.

Another important highlight in the meeting was the nomination of Ahmed Rafay Alam as the secretary of the commission. The EPA Director General, Maqsood Ahmed Lak addressed about the status quo situation in Ravi. The discharging lines have been identified as a major source of pollution. This severity of the pollution is such that it has made survival of aquatic species quite difficult. On one hand, the flow of river has decreased, while on the other the contamination level has increased. It has been suggested that investigative studies would be done in order to study the discharge plan from industrial units.

All in all, this is a nice effort that caters to a significant environmental problem in Lahore. River Ravi is more than a river for the inhabitants of Punjab.










New Cancer Target

Enzyme as therapeutic target for cancer

It is good news for cancer drug developers have developed inroads into regulation of alternative RNA splicing. A new signal transduction pathway has been found that is involved in this regulation. This new pathway would provide good knowledge to cancer drug developers.

As per the main mechanism is concerned, the main elements involved in signal transduction include kinases and phosphatases. This pathway proceeds in a cascade like manner by removing or adding phosphates. One class, SRPK kinases play an active role in splicing regulators in mammalian cells.

SRPK1 is a molecule which is involved in cancer related diseases in humans. It mode of action is mostly in Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor/ VEGF. It exerts it action by initiating the blood vessel growth in cancer. This SRPK1 is deregulated in the state of cancer (kidney/breast/lung and pancreatic). From drug point of view, low level of SRPK1 is associated with drug resistance.

The main researchers, Fu and his colleagues have revealed that SRPK1 plays a significant role in signal transduction of the cell. According to Fu, “The kinase sits right in the middle of the PI3K-Akt pathway to specifically relay the growth signal to regulate alternative splicing in the nucleus. It’s a new signaling branch that has previously escaped detection.”

This is good news for cancer drugs since this molecule provides a central role and can be manipulated accordingly.

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Investing in Biotech

Economic Perspective and Investing in Biotechnology

InVitro Vogue is an integrated biotechnology company in Pakistan and abroad with a scope to harness the hidden revolution. This company targets various aspects and labels the gap between academic research and industry utilization as the major factor in an unstable economy. Present times have seen a global economic slump with even the emerging economies like Brazil and India slowing down. Europe has been slow to recover and America is still suffering from aftermaths of the fiscal meltdown.

For developed countries and even the developing ones, biotech is a bright economic perspective. Biotech shows remarkable cost effective in its products. For instance, genome sequencing cost has dropped down to a staggering $1000. (Check out this TEDx talk for more detail: Now this technology has the potential to redefine the diagnostic parameters of the coming decade, and at a very low price. Countries that have invested in such science and technology are bound to be rewarded in the coming decade.

In order to prove this, we can take a look at the Human Genome Project. When it was launched, it took in a lot of money ($3.8 billion). However, the payback was overwhelming. The economic activity generated from this project is around $796 billion and the personal income figures are $244 billion. The number of jobs generated from this project was a staggering 310,000 in the year 2010 only. This project has advantages not only in health care but agriculture as well. Gene therapy has also benefitted from it. So, biotechnology always leads to an “integrated” economic benefit.

It’s a matter of simple arithmetic. The more the country invests in research and development, the more are the returns. America has been cutting its funds for the last few years, and hence its GDP has suffered. If one were to take a look at China, they have increased their funding by at least 10 percent each year.

Another important element is the kind of technology that is being invested in. Much has been talked about America’s ill investment in Solyndra (Solar energy) but one needs to see which the positive avenues are. Another related factor is the type of regulations that exist for launching biotechnology products. America has quite stringent policies and many biotech entrepreneurs are of the opinion that this has led to a decrease in the innovation in biotech related research. This is important when we are talking about drugs based innovation. An ironic quote that needs be mentioned here is from Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, founder of Biocon. She says, “It takes 12 years to get a drug from conception to market, while it took six years to get the Airbus A380 from the drawing board to flying in the skies.”

So, at a global level, the paradigm needs to shift for helping the economy. Do mail your comments at:

Breakthrough in RNAi Complex

RNAi Complex: Now Clear

Here is some good news pertaining to molecular biology as scientists from Whitehead Institute and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center have presented a clearer picture of the RNAi complex. They have done so by using a yeast protein and Argonaute. This protein has known interaction with RNA. Another significant element is that this protein complex plays a main role in RNAi based gene silencing. This is a breakthrough insight since people have been trying to describe the structure of Argonaute. This structure will be published in Nature’s issue on 21st June.

David Bartel who is a professor of Biology at MIT believes that by knowing the crystal structure of this protein, scientists would be able to understand the biochemistry behind RNAi pathway. This also makes good room for further experiments in this domain as well.

The Mechanism

The main mechanism behind RNAi in humans and many of the eukaryotes is that this pathway focuses on cellular protein reduction. Using this pathway, genes and pathways to specific proteins can be silenced. This pathway has great importance in disease paradigm in terms of healthcare.

The main proteins in RNAi pathway include Dicer and Argonaute. While Dicer acts on double stranded RNA, Argonaute targets ds RNA bits. It would discard one strand and use the other as a guide. What happens next is that when there is a complete match between single stranded RNA and guide sequence, Argonaute would act and cleave.

During the study, the researchers found that the incorporation of RNAs had the potential to switch the protein into an active state. This active state protein had a four component active site. The breakthrough has been made in the analysis of this structure.

“Seeing the crystal structure of a eukaryotic Argonaute for the first time was very exciting — it’s such a large protein with a complicated topology and many moving parts,” says Weinberg. “It’s a really impressive molecular machine.”

This work was supported by National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Human Frontier Science Program, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and the National Science Foundation (NSF).


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