Obaid Siddiqi, a bio-scientist par excellence (Obituary)

Bangalore, July 27 : Obaid Siddiqi, who passed away here late Friday was a leading research scientist and founding director of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) here.

"Siddiqi was one of India's finest biologists whose contribution to the growth of molecular biology was profound. Demonstrating that scientific research was creative, he pioneered behaviourial genetics by conducting research on the genetics of olfactory sensation in drosophila (fruit fly)," NCBS director Satyaji Mayor said here Saturday.

Born in 1932 in Uttar Pradesh, the young Siddiqi graduated from Aligarh Muslim University, and did his doctorate (PhD) on microbial genetics from University of Glasgow in Britain.

"Siddiqi was instrumental in setting up the NCBS here over two decades ago (1992) to explore new frontiers in biological research and motivate a generation of fellow bio-scientists to excel in the fascinating field," Mayor recalled.

Siddiqi, 80, leaves behind wife Asiya, two sons Imran and Kalim and two daughters Yumna and Diba.

Armed with a Ph.D, Siddiqi sailed to the US to do post-doctoral research at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York and at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, which led to the discovery of stop codons in the genetic code and mechanism of chain termination during protein synthesis.

"Siddiqi was among a daring few who defined a new intellectual quest and whose leadership created a culture of research. His foresight, determination and courage have transformed research in molecular biology in the country," said Biotechnology department secretary and former NCBS director K.Vijay Raghavan.

At the invitation of India's famous nuclear physicist Homi Bhabha in 1962, Siddiqi had set up the molecular biology unit at the TIFR in Mumbai (then Bombay), where foundation for modern biology research in the country was laid.

Siddiqi's pioneering work at the unit in the 1980s on the genetic basis of taste and smell of fruit fly paved way for the understanding of how senses detect taste and smell and encode in the brain.

Working with Seymour Benzer at Caltech (California Institute of Technology) in the US in the early seventies (1970s), he discovered a set of temperature sensitive paralytic mutants that exhibited defects in the electrical activity of nerves and muscles.

"The discovery led to an understanding of the mechanistic basis of neuronal function and heralded the dawn of the field of Behavioral Genetics," Mayor pointed out.

The Indian government honoured Siddiqi with several awards and medals, including the prestigious Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, Bhatnagar Prize, Aryabhatta Medal by INSA (Indian National Science Academy) and BC Roy award for biomedical research.

During his six-decade long illustrious academic career, Siddiqi's contributions were widely recognised national and internationally.

He was also an elected member of the Royal Society, London (FRS), the US National Academy of Sciences, the World Academy of Sciences, Trieste, the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, National Academy of Sciences (India), Allahabad, and Maharashtra Academy of Sciences.

As a distinguished scholar, Siddiqi was a visiting professor at Yale University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and twice at Caltech and a life member of Clare Hall at Cambridge in Britain.

Aligarh Muslim University, Banaras Hindu University, Jamia Hamdard, Kalyani University, IIT Bombay, Jamia Millia Islamia and Central University of Hyderabad conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Science (D.Sc).

Siddiqi's last rites were performed here Saturday in the presence of hundreds of his colleagues, students, family members and friends.

--IANS (Posted on 27-07-2013)

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