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Biology pioneer dead

Obaid Siddiqi

New Delhi, July 26: Obaid Siddiqi, a biologist who pioneered India’s entry into the genetics of behaviour and established the foundations of modern biology research in the country, died in Bangalore today after a fall and head injury. He was 81.

Siddiqi had set up the molecular biology unit at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, in 1962 and been the founding director of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore, in the early 1990s.

In the 1970s, he had begun studying the genetics of behaviour using the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as a model. He discovered a set of mutant flies that displayed defects in the electrical activity of their nerves and muscles.

This work led to a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of brain cell functions and heralded the dawn of behavioural genetics, the NCBS said in a statement tonight.

A decade later, Siddiqi explored the genetics of taste and smell. These studies paved the way for an understanding of how senses such as taste and smell are detected and encoded in the brain, the statement added.

“Today, we celebrate Obaid Siddiqi whose foresight, determination and quiet courage transformed research in molecular biology in India and whose scientific successes span many fields of biology,” former NCBS director K. Vijay Raghavan said.

Siddiqi, who was born in Uttar Pradesh and studied at the Aligarh Muslim University and the University of Glasgow, is survived by wife Asiya, sons Imran and Kaleem, and daughters Yumna and Diba.

“His contribution to the growth of molecular biology is unparalleled,” said Satyajit Mayor, current NCBS director.