Scientist Maqsudul Alam, the decoder of jute plant genome, whose research identified the DNA of the traditional variety of jute, passed away yesterday at the age of 60.
He died of liver cirrhosis at a hospital in the United States. He was also a professor at the University of Hawaii.
His brother Mahbubul Alam Babu confirmed that he died at the Queens Hospital in Hawaii early on Sunday (Bangladesh time) after suffering from cirrhosis of the liver.
Maqsudul Alam was admitted to the hospital with liver problems on December 2 and was undergoing treatment there since, his brother said. He also said that the renowned scientist will be buried in Hawaii on Monday.
President Md Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have expressed their condolences over the death of the scientist.
He will be laid to rest at the Hawaii Memorial Park Cemetery as per his last wishes, family members said.
Dr Maqsudul Alam and his team became globally famous after they discovered the genome sequence of 'Tosha' jute -- the Jute Plant Draft Genome - in June, 2010.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina broke the news of the achievement in Parliament on June 16 that year.
In August 2013, the Prime Minister, flanked by Dr Maqsudul Alam, announced that the team has sequenced the DNA of the traditional variety of jute called 'Tosha'.
A genome is an organism's complete set of DNA, including all its genes. Each genome contains all the information needed to build and maintain that organism.
The decoding enables Bangladesh to own all the genetic documents of the natural fibre which has reappeared as a crucial resource in the campaign for environment friendly fibres.
Genome sequence represents a valuable shortcut, helping scientists find genes much more easily and quickly. A genome sequence allows scientists to identify and understand how genes work together for the plant's different 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.
Experts say this gene sequencing will help improve the fibre length and quality, including colours and strength; and develop high yielding, saline soil-and pest-resistant jute varieties through genetic engineering.
The same team was announced to have decoded the genome of another native jute variety named "Deshi" on August 2013. Dr Maqsudul said it would take around five years for his team to develop the new disease- and climate-tolerant variety.
Their triumph continued as they sequenced the DNA make-up of a fungus, Macrophomina Phaseolina, which reduces yield of more than 500 species of crops including jute, soybean, cotton, tobacco, maize and sunflower.
Maqsudul Alam was born on December 14 in 1954 in Faridpur. His father, a martyr of the 1971 Liberation War, was also an official of the then East Pakistan Rifles and his mother Lyrian Ahmed was a teacher.
After independence of Bangladesh, Maqsudul Alam left for Russia and completed his post graduate degree in microbiology in 1979 and obtained PhD in 1982 from the Moscow State University.
Five years later, Maqsudul completed his second doctorate in biochemistry from Germany's Max-Planck-Institute of Biochemistry.
Before joining the University of Hawaii, he worked as a researcher and taught at the Moscow State University, the Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Max-Planck-Institute and Washington State University in the US.
Dr Alam, who taught at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, had achieved two more milestones in genomics - sequencing the genomes of papaya in the US and rubber in Malaysia.
He was the director of the Genomics, Proteomics and Bioinformatics Department at the University College of Natural Sciences.
Meanwhile, using the information on genome sequence, the scientists are constantly engaged in inventing different varieties of jute which would be tolerant to natural adversities and pest attacks.
Maqsudul Alam's demise is an irreparable loss to the country and the scientist community who are approaching science for human development.