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Obaid Siddiqi 1932-2013

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Shocking news of the death of Obaid Siddiqi, the founder of molecular biology research in India, due to a road accident has been noted widely by the media.

The Hindu has a very good obituary:

Obaid Siddiqi

Prof. Siddiqi was born in Uttar Pradesh in 1932. He studied plant embryology at the Aligarh Muslim University and then worked on wheat genetics at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Delhi. He switched to microbial genetics and took his PhD from the University of Glasgow under the supervision of Guido Pontecorvo. He carried out postdoctoral research with Alan Garen at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and University of Pennsylvania. This seminal work led to the discovery of stop codons in the genetic code and how protein synthesis is halted.

In 1962, at the invitation of Homi Bhabha he set up the Molecular Biology Unit at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai.

In the early 1970s, Prof. Siddiqi began to study the genetic basis of behaviour using the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as model. Working with Seymour Benzer at Caltech, he discovered a set of temperature sensitive paralytic mutants that exhibited defects in the electrical activity of nerves and muscles. This discovery led to a deeper understanding of the mechanistic basis of neuronal function. Over the next decade, Prof. Siddiqi and his students at TIFR carried out pioneering work on the genetic basis of taste and smell in the fruit fly. These discoveries paved the way for the modern understanding of how senses such as taste and smell are detected and encoded in the brain. He was active in this area of research till the end of his life.

Prof. Siddiqi was always willing to discuss and explain biology to anyone who was interested, and his arguments made sense even to a non-biologist. I can trace some of my own distant appreciation of biology as a science to post-colloquium discussions with him. He was seen less often in Mumbai after his move to Bengaluru. Even so, in the occassional talk where he was in the audience, it was clear from his questions that he was not only in touch, but still actively thinking about a wide range of questions in biology.

For those of us who had the previlege of knowing Obaid Siddiqi and his family, this report from the Hindu seems characteristic:

Celebrated biologist Obaid Siddiqi, a scientist nonpareil whose pioneering work shed light on how taste and smell are detected and coded in brain, died on Friday of injuries he sustained in an accident two days ago.

Prof. Siddiqi (81), a National Research Professor at the National Centre for Biological Sciences here, was taking a stroll near his residence in Vidyaranyapura on Wednesday when his neighbour, a college student riding his moped, knocked him down.

Prof. Siddiqi was rushed to the Baptist Hospital, where he died of his injuries. He is survived by his wife Asiya, sons Imran and Kaleem, and daughters Yumna and Diba. Prof. Siddiqi’s family members have preferred not to file complaint against their neighbour, whose identity was not revealed by the police. Hebbal Traffic police said the scientist’s family did not want to file a complaint considering their neighbour’s career.


Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

July 28, 2013 at 1:12 pm

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