“I wish I could have ten Ahmads in my Epigenetics lab,” smiles Dr. Muhammad Tariq, who leads the Epigenetics lab and is Chair of theBiology Programme at the Syed Babar Ali School of Science and Engineering. He is talking about Muhammad Ahmad, a BS Biology, Class of 2015 graduate, who recently published in Scientific Reports about starvation induced cannibalism in flies. “It is extremely rare for an undergraduate student in Cell and Molecular Biology Programmes to have first author research publications in a good scientific journal,” explains Dr. Tariq. A research paper written by Ahmad with help from LUMS Biology faculty, Dr. Safee Ullah Chaudhary, Dr. Ahmed Jawaad Afzal and Dr. Muhammad Tariq; regarding how starvation induces cannibalistic behavior in flies, was published in the journal, Scientific Reports in September 2015. Ahmad’s undergraduate research is one of his major achievements which has resulted in multiple fully-funded PhD offers from prestigious universities including The Scripps Research Institute, Cornell etc. Dr. Nancy Bonini from UPenn also wrote to Ahmad admiring his academic rigour and hoping to invite him for a talk on his undergraduate research. Ahmad has chosen to join Scripps Research Institute, where he is the only international student from the 9 chosen, out of a pool of thousands of applicants. He has been given a 5 year fully funded offer for the PhD programme there.
Talking about the research paper, Ahmad explains, “The project was to demonstrate how flies learn to respond to the environment. Due to just 3 – 4 hours of starvation, flies become cannibalistic, eating their own eggs, larvae and even adult flies become cannibalistic. This is an amazing find as previously flies were thought to be an herbivorous species.” Dr. Tariq continues, “Ahmad had actually been assigned a different research question related to behavior in flies. However, he derived his own question to develop this project and designed experiments and analyzed data.”
There are very few papers published in this area, and cannibalistic behavior in flies was only discovered for the first time in 2013 by a research group in Switzerland. The difference between the findings of the two was that while the Swiss researchers showed that behavior evolved over generations, Ahmad’s research showed that in just 4 hours, flies could acquire a trait or induce a behavior through manipulating conditions.
Another of Ahmad’s achievements is his assistance in setting up the fly micro-injection facility at LUMS, along with two other Biology students, Adil Munir (now at UNC Chapel Hill) and Muhammad Abdul Haseeb (who will be joining Dartmouth soon). Ahmad is currently working on another exciting research project which Dr. Tariq believes will also result in an excellent publication.
Discussing the Biology programme offered at LUMS, Dr. Tariq states, “It is very encouraging for the Biology Department to have such young graduates sending waves in top tier places in the US. This highlights the excellence in teaching, the rigour in curriculum and the experience of undergraduate research offered at LUMS. In just the last 4 years, since the first BS Biology batch graduated in 2012, we have had more than 35 undergraduate students go straight for PhDs at prestigious universities around the world. This also reassures us that our vision to produce the next generation of biologists at the Syed Babar Ali School of Science and Engineering is working perfectly and the success of our Biology students is due to their training in an inter-disciplinary manner in Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics and in various fields in the social sciences.”
Talking of his future plans, Ahmad says he is currently writing a review paper together with Dr. Tariq and Professor William Ja from Scripps. “I want to work in the neurosciences and behavior field and in the drug therapeutics area for neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s,” says Ahmad.
“Ahmad is a true son of Pakistan and an ambassador of LUMS and I have high hopes for him. He is honest, hardworking and humble and if he continues on this path, he will make headlines around the world,” states Dr. Tariq proudly.