Headline, February 11 2021/ ''' '' Q.E.D. GENE QUEEN '' '''

''' '' Q.E.D. GENE 

QUEEN '' '''

PROUD-PAKISTAN BORN : SCIENTIST ASIFA AKHTAR is ecstatic that her work on epigenetics has been awarded Germany's most prestigious award in science : the 2021 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibinz Prize.

Apart from the prestige that it brings, the award also carries a purse of Euro 2.5 million, which gives Dr. Asifa the financial muscle she needs to research further. She will receive the award in a virtual ceremony scheduled for March 15.

''This was a wonderful piece of news to brighten a year overshadowed by the pandemic,'' she says of the award announcement in late 2020. ''It is a great honor and a great recognition for the work that we have done.''

The Leibniz Prize is awarded by the German Research Foundation [Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft or DFG] a state funded autonomous organisation promoting scientific research.

Dr. Asifa's research was chosen from among the 10 that the DFG short-listed out of a total of 131 it was considering.


Consider this : Every single cell in our body contains the same DNA and the same information, so how do the various body parts - for instance, our hands and our eyes - function differently?

This is where epigenetics comes into play. Epigenetics is the study of heritable phenotype changes that do not involve alterations in the DNA sequence. The Greek prefix epi- in epigenetics implies features that are 'on top of'' or ''in addition to'' the traditional genetic basis for inheritance.

In layman's terms, Dr. Asifa's research seeks to understand how genes are turned on and off, and how this contributes to the diversity that humans have in their cells and in their bodies.

A topic of particular interest for Dr. Asifa is epigenetics of the whole chromosomes. A human male has one X chromosomes, whereas a female has two X chromosomes. Despite this difference, both males and females have the same number of X-linked genes and products because females ''inactivate'' or ''shutdown'' one of the chromosomes.

This inactivation is also achieved via epigenetic regulation. Dr. Asifa's research is helping illuminate how such processes work at the molecular level and will help us better understand X-linked genetic disorders.

Those following an academic track, she says, look for post-doctoral work to gain more experience in doing research. This is how she moved to European Molecular Biology Laboratory [EMBL] in Heidelberg.

She briefly moved to Munich when her lab was in transition but then returned to Heidelberg at EMBL, this time as a group leader. ''This is where I actually started my independent career of leading my own lab,'' she says.

''These positions have a set time-frame of nine years, so when I finished my term, I moved to Max Planck [Institute] in Freiberg where I am right now.''

Once I finished my PhD, I learned to be independent, learned to design a research project, and this was the time where I felt maybe I was not good enough,'' she concedes. ''But as an optimist, as a fighter, I never gave up and continued.''

But leading a lab of her own came with a different kinds of challenges, such as how to deal with different people, how to lead projects, and how to keep people motivated. It was also the time when her daughter was born. ''So I juggled my family and my career,'' Dr. Asifa recalls.

Dr. Asifa says she knew from the beginning that going into research and choosing it as a career was important to her. But she knew at the outset that there was no guarantee that she would succeed.

''This is challenging for women in general and maybe even more challenging for people coming from countries such as Pakistan.

Dr. Asia says people in Pakistan are no different in terms of what they can achieve within the country or elsewhere. ''But infrastructure and resources have to be there to enable them to do that. I think the priorities have to be reassessed as to what we think is more important for our future,'' she says.

She draws a parallel with Germany, where a lot of emphasis is put on sciences and education because ''Germans consider investing into sciences as investing in their future.'' In her view - this is the attitude the Pakistanis have to take. ''Only then we can succeed as a nation.''

Along with making required resources available, Dr. Asifa thinks that there is a dire need for the availability of equal opportunities. Pakistani society needs to make it possible for women to follow a career if they want to.

''Honestly speaking - the kind of family structure we have in Pakistan should enable more women to go forward,'' she says.

''Because people live in big families where nana, nanis and dada, dadis are close this should enable childcare issues to be solved much faster than you can, for example, in Europe where families are living very far away from each other.

Dr. Asia hopes to be a good role model for women. ''My message to the young scientists and young women is if I can make it, you can do the same. You just have to go forward and not give up on following your dreams.''

The World Students Society thanks author Umer Bin Ajmal, a Mundas Journalism scholar based in Hamburg, Germany.

With respectful dedication to the Scientists, Students, Professors and Teachers of the world. See Ya all prepare and register for Great Global Elections on The World Students Society : wssciw.blogspot.com and Twitter - !E-WOW! - The Ecosystem 2011 :

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Good Night and God Bless

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