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Thursday, September 20, 2012
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Alam does it again

After jute, he leads Bangladeshi scientists to crack genetic code of a deadly fungus; creates scope to stop Tk 4,000cr jute loss a year

Dr Maqsudul Alam

A Bangladeshi scientist has decoded the genome of a most deadly fungus that causes havoc to global jute and soybean production.

The fungus -- macrophomina phaseolina -- also causes seedling blight, root rot and charcoal rot of more than 500 crop and non-crop species.

The gene sequencing of macrophomina phaseolina would particularly help Bangladeshi scientists to develop jute varieties capable of fighting the fungus that causes an annual yield loss of around Tk 4,000 crore damaging 30 percent of the country's precious natural fibre, experts said.

Jute is the second largest fibre crop next to cotton. And Bangladesh is the world's second-biggest producer of jute, next to India, and the biggest exporter of the natural fibre.

Bangladesh's globally famed geneticist Dr Maqsudul Alam led a 17-member team since early last year to decode the deadly fungus. The decoding has been done at a recently set up laboratory at Bangladesh Jute Research Institute (BJRI).

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced the scientific achievement of Bangladesh in the Jatiya Sangsad yesterday amid cheers and desk thumping by lawmakers.

Dr Alam and his team's success in decoding fungus genome came just two years after he had decoded jute genome. Maqsudul Alam earlier sequenced the genome of papaya in the United States and rubber plant in Malaysia.

"Macrophomina phaseolina damages jute stems and is responsible for 30 percent of jute yield loss. Besides, it also causes multiple damage to 500 crop and non-crop species. The US alone suffers Tk 1,500 crore production loss a year due to 'charcoal rot' in soybean caused by macrophomina phaseolina," explained biotechnologist Dr Shahidul Islam, a senior member of Dr Alam's team.

Reached over the phone last night, Dr Islam said they had completed the sequencing earlier this year but it has been internationally recognised with its publication in acclaimed UK journal BMC Genomics on September 17.

Genome sequencing helps scientists find genes much more easily and quickly. It allows scientists identify and understand how genes work together on a plant's various features like growth, development and maintenance as an entire organism. This allows them to manipulate the genes and enhance, reduce or add certain features of the plant.

Prof Haseena Khan of biochemistry and molecular biology department at Dhaka University told this correspondent last night, "This (macrophomina phaseolina) fungus causes colossal damage to various crops. With this genome decoding, we'll now be able to know all its characteristics and can infuse new genes in jute that can fight back."

Terming this a major breakthrough, she said, "This will help not only Bangladesh. This will have universal application."

In parliament, the prime minister also announced that Bangladesh has applied for patents of all these innovations.

Scientists involved in the jute genome and fungus genome sequencing said Bangladesh has so far filed five patent petitions and engaged three lawyers to get jute and fungus genome patented in Bangladesh's favour. Once that's done, Bangladesh would earn patent money whoever applies these innovations.

Congratulating Alam and his team for this scientific feat, Sheikh Hasina had earlier said, "We used to gain knowledge from all over the world but now we're in a position that we can provide new knowledge to the world."

Briefing journalists at the Jatiya Sangsad media centre last night, Alam said they would try to develop jute varieties capable of fighting the fungus in the next five to six years.

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Great news and congratulations! Innovation is something not normally encouraged in Bangladesh. Our universities need to work with industries and more closely with real needs as well as teaching the theory. Very well done.

: Translucent

A breath of fresh air. After a barrage of bad news such as bank swindling and highway robberies, here is something Bangalees can cherish.

Congratulations to all the scientists involved.

: Tazeem Hasan


  • Kalam
    Thursday, September 20, 2012 02:59 AM GMT+06:00 (177 weeks ago)

    Congratulations Dr Alam... You certainly have done something great for the country and the world.

  • Farjana Yesmin
    Thursday, September 20, 2012 03:16 AM GMT+06:00 (177 weeks ago)

    Congratulations to Dr Maqsudul Alam.

  • N. Alamgir
    Thursday, September 20, 2012 07:32 AM GMT+06:00 (177 weeks ago)

    Hats off to Dr Maqsudul Alam for his work which will have global implications. I would request the govt to honour him duly for his great work in decoding the genetic code of jute and fungus -- works of great achievement. He should be given every kind of support that he needs to make further important achievements in his field.

  • Nurul Aman, USA
    Thursday, September 20, 2012 08:55 AM GMT+06:00 (177 weeks ago)

    Congratulations Dr Alam for this remarkable accomplishment! We Bangladeshis living outside and inside are immensely proud of this great scientific breakthrough that will save billions of Jute and soybean in Bangladesh and the world.

  • Saleh Md. Shahriar
    Thursday, September 20, 2012 09:56 AM GMT+06:00 (177 weeks ago)

    We can do many innovative things if the required opportunities and a political congenial atmosphere are present.

  • Reaz Hassan
    Thursday, September 20, 2012 01:08 AM GMT+06:00 (177 weeks ago)

    We really wish to see practical results rather than theoretical academic possibilities. We are yet to see any visible economic outcome of his high sounding earlier discovery of decoding jute genome. One should also be very cautious in estimating the value of crop losses-around 4,000 crore, mentioned in the news, which can be obviated due to Dr Alam's present discovery. Since I have come across hundreds of near breakthrough of all different kinds in my own research on textiles in the course of the last two hundred years, I would rather keep my nerves cool till visible practical results are demonstrated.

  • Md. Farid Hossain
    Thursday, September 20, 2012 08:58 AM GMT+06:00 (177 weeks ago)

    Sabas Bangladesh...

  • Ornob
    Thursday, September 20, 2012 10:26 AM GMT+06:00 (177 weeks ago)

    Good job sir! God bless you!





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