Message: Founding Director/Creator of CEMB

It is a distinct honor and a profound privilege to write Founding Director’s message for the CEMB website. This message consists of two parts namely,

  1. Genesis of CEMB
  2. Growth and Development of CEMB Teaching and Research Program

The message will conclude with a word of advice to CEMB research fellows for consideration in the pursuit of their goals in molecular biology teaching and research.

I(a)     Proposal for the Establishment of a Dedicated Multidisciplinary Institute of Molecular Biology: 
The proposal about building a first rate laboratory of teaching and research in modern biology in university of the Punjab, Lahore emerged during discussions held between Dr Ahmed Iqbal Bukhari (then at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, New York) and Dr. S. Riazuddin (then at the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology, Faisalabad), in a meeting in 1979 organized by Late Hakim Saeed in Rawalpindi at Pearl Continental hotel. The concept of establishment of CEMB as a multidisciplinary institution in a university setting emerged in a meeting of heads of all federal S&T organizations [Chairman, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), Chairman, Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC), Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture & Co-operative, Chairman Higher Education Commission (then University Grants Commission) and Vice-Chancellor, University of the Punjab,  held in the President House under the chairmanship of the then President of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.  Recognizing acute shortage of specifically trained manpower, lack of adequate laboratory infrastructure and academic nature of the new science as well as Government of Pakistan’s offer to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization(UNIDO) to host International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology(ICGEB), the meeting decided to locate the new institution in University of the Punjab and all the said organization pledged to contribute in the accelerated growth and development of CEMB {then named as Centre for Advanced Studies in Molecular Biology). In pursuance of the decisions made in the said meeting under the Chairmanship of President of Pakistan, Dr. Riazuddin’s services were transferred from NIAB, PAEC to University of the Punjab, Lahore as the first Director of Centre of Advanced Studies in Molecular Biology which was upgraded in 1986 by the Federal Ministry of Education to “Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology” under the 1974 Act of the Parliament for the establishment of Centres of excellence in universities. The Centre was initially situated in two student laboratories on the ground floor of the Zoology Department, University of the Punjab.

I(b)    Formal declaration for the establishment of CEMB was made in a lunch meeting hosted by the then Governor/Chancellor of University of the Punjab in the Governor House. PSF and UGC (HEC) made special grants to the newly established university Centre. PARC and MoST established their laboratories at the CEMB campus. These laboratories operated as integral and inalienable parts of CEMB until 2010.

I(c)     The above historical account provides insights into the collaborative efforts and strategic decisions that led to the creation of the Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology (CEMB) within University of the Punjab. It highlights the recognition of the importance of molecular biology as a new science and a revolutionary technology and the collective commitment of Federal S&T organizations and GOP to addressing the associated challenges.

II(a)   CEMB as the First Ph.D/M.Phil Teaching Institution: 
The Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology (CEMB) together with its two integral components steadily and speedily grew into the first postgraduate molecular biology teaching and research institution in Pakistan. CEMB offered specialized training through short courses on the pattern of EMBO/CSH training courses and M.Phil and Ph.D. degree program, catering to a diverse range of students with backgrounds in agricultural, biological, medical and physical sciences. The program of teaching and research was developed, with the help of a seven member Foreign Advisor Council (FAC) including three Nobel Laureates and two members of US National Academy of Science. The focus of research effort and input of resources were on applied research in health and agriculture with clearly defined goals to solve specific problems of economic importance and human health issues of common man.  About 25-30% of all research was high quality basic research which had direct impact on all ongoing applied research.

II(b)   Funding from International Organization:  
CEMB sourced a significant portion of its funding from non-governmental organizations, demonstrating its ability to secure support from various international foundations. All basic research and over 50% of all applied research was collaborative research sponsored by funding agencies such as US National Science Foundation, US National Institutes of Health, EU Science Consortium, Rockefeller Foundation, International Centre of Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology (ICGEB), International Foundation for Science (IFS) and Third World Academy of Science (TWAS).

II(c)   International Collaborations:
CEMB formed collaborations with esteemed institutions like Johns Hopkins University, University of Washington, Ghent University, and University College London. These collaborations aimed at training Ph.D. scholars, transferring technology, and building local capabilities. Such mutually beneficial collaborations resulted in research publications in high-impact factor international journals as well as significant contributions to international genetic resources, regenerative medicine and advancements in understanding the molecular basis of genetic diseases.

II(d)   In developing teaching and research programs at CEMB, efforts were made to maintain excellence with relevance to needs of the common man. Hence, collaborative research program on search for new Bt genes, identification of new variants of pathogenic human mutations and cloning of multi Bt genes in cotton and cloning of human interferon gene in E, coli are some of the glaring examples. An effort was also made to gain visibility in the international community through high quality and uniqueness of our programs and attainment of specialized local capabilities. Hence, CEMB was the first lab to clone interferon and related human genes – the first lab in Pakistan to initiate stem cell research for regenerative medicine. The program on genetic diseases was conceived when very few labs appreciated the relevance of human genome sequencing to studies in genetic diseases. CEMB remains one of the best labs for its program of research on genetic diseases, in terms of identification of number of new genes and in establishing genome phenotype relationship. Teaching and research programs at CEMB gained recognition and fame that rapidly transcended from South-East Asia into Far-East, Middle East, Europe and North America. This recognition was evidenced by the participation of trainees and Ph.D. students from all over and who considered CEMB an excellent place of learning molecular biology in Pakistan.

II(e)   Challenges and Renewed Focus:
It is a natural phenomenon that active logarithmic growth, eventually ceases and is inevitably followed by a stationary phase (as is the case in a bacterial growth curve). Good institutions with visionary leaders, foresee international trends and challenges and make new strategies to cope with new and emerging challenges. As coincidence would have it, after a break of over a decade, CEMB has been blessed with a regular, young and vibrant Director to embark on the challenging task of visualizing, apprehending and solving future problems before they emerge. Fortunately, the required infrastructure and uniqueness of genetic resource, already exists at CEMB. It requires vision and selfless devotion to make judicious choices. And it will require exploitation of complementary strengths of collaborating institutions.

           Our Quaid said,    “United we stand, divided we fall”. 

Please join hands and work selflessly and collectively with a missionary zeal to achieve the unachievable. Nothing is impossible.

           Our National Poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal said,

II(f)    Future Vision:
The above message accentuates the need for continuous growth and adaptation to changing international developments. It emphasizes the importance of strong leadership, dedicated faculty and students, and collaborative efforts in achieving future goals. It underscores the need for vision and selfless dedication to overcome challenges and regain momentum.

Finally, a few words for the incoming new research fellows: 
Everywhere in the world, the main working force is Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows. The actual bench work is done by them and the message highlights some advisory comments:

  • Be observational – be patient – be consistent. There is no substitute for hard work, which is always rewarded.
    Say not the Struggle naught availeth”.
  • Never be disheartened by apparent failures. Every failure makes one-step forward in your success ladder.
  • Selection of a research problem is science and not fantasy – select it scientifically. Ask cogent questions, develop a hypothesis and plan your work to answer these questions.
  • Analyze your data critically and thoroughly – often there is a lot in it that one can easily ignore. Do not overlook results/observations which may seem trivial. After all,
    • Isaac Newton pondered on a trivial observation “why did apple fall on the ground”;
    • Archimedes noted while bathing in a tub that when he slipped in the tub, water spilling out of the tub was equal to the volume of his body.
    • August Kekule dreamt of a snake with tail in his mouth when he was dreaming of an explanation of unexpected behavior of carbon-carbon bonds in benzene ring.


  • Discovery of Raman Spectrum emerged from the child-like observation of C. V. Raman that ocean water looks blue.

Concluding Remarks:  
The in-coming Ph.D. research fellows are very fortunate to have gotten admission in CEMB that has a lot to offer them. It is rich in resources, experience and infrastructure for them. Enjoy molecular biology experimentation and practice it because it tells you “how a tiny living being does what is does”. You are exploring your inside and not outer space. Molecular biology today is in the same phase as chemistry and physics were in the beginning of the last century. New excitements are yet to come. Molecular biology is an exciting science and a revolutionary technology and its wonders will remain with us for a long time to come.