How a Kashmiri scientist connected the dots to bridge a billion year gap

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A Kashmir-born scientist, Dr. Aashiq Hussain Kachroo, took world scientific community by  a surprise with his ground breaking research. Dr. Aashiq Kachroo published his research findings in Science magazine – one of the most prestigious scientific journals on 21th May 2015. 

Dr. Aashiq transformed a single celled organism, Baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) to behave more like humans (multicellular organisms ) at the molecular level by a process called humanization of yeast. This is for the first time that such type of research has been carried out. 

The ground breaking research of unearthing this long-sought missing link between humans and microorganisms  separated by roughly a billion years of evolutionary history was done by Dr. Aashiq and his colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas USA using state-of –the- art scientific technology. 

Dr. Aashiq and his group demonstrated that  human DNA can replace corresponding DNA in yeast  and successfully support life of yeast cells. Dr. Aashiq tested over 400 genes from humans and replaced them with similar genes in yeast – the genes that were vital for  growth and survival. 

The entire scientific community has responded with the statement that “No such kind of research has ever been conducted before and certainly not at this scale”. It is surprising that a yeast can live with human genes despite billion years of divergent evolution. Scientists can now put our genes in a simple organism and ask would my  version or somebody else’s version work better in yeast and support growth. In other words, we could test the effect of variation in human genes in a simple cell and ask if a change in a certain human gene causes a disease. 

Dr. Aashiq says “We should be able to predict exactly the effect of genetic changes in human genes using this simplified model”. This new finding would be crucial for understanding, testing and treating human genetic defects. The humanized yeast would help devise new therapeutic interventions for personalized medicine. This is fascinating and simple to test, it will provided a far better service to humans in understanding basic biology that gives clues to many life processes and helps treat diseases like cancer.

Dr. Aashiq Hussain Kachroo hails from Apple town of Sopore. Dr. Aashiq is the eldest of 3 siblings raised in a typical Kashmiri middle class family born to Ghulam Qadir Kachroo and Jana begum. Dr. Aashiq completed undergraduate studies at Govt. Degree College Sopore and  Master’s in Biochemistry at the University of Kashmir in 2000. It was at the University of Kashmir that Dr. Aashiq got motivated to do Science. He credits his success to Prof. Khursheed Iqbal Andrabi, current VC- University of Kashmir. 

Dr. Aashiq earned his PhD at the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bangalore- the most prestigious research institute in India. Dr. Aashiq’ supervisor at IISC, Dr. Subramony Mahadevan, helped him learn fundamentals of scientific research and egged him to pursue high-profile research. Dr. Aashiq finished his PhD in 2007. Later, Dr. Aashiq moved to USA and is currently at the University of Texas at Austin. He has worked with Dr. Makkuni Jayaram on site-specific DNA cutters (enzymes that help seal dangerous breaks in our genetic material) followed by his current work with Dr. Edward Marcotte at the same University. He has published many research papers in high impact international journals. 

Author is a Senior Scientist at the Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine ( IIIM), Jammu.

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