Hafiz Muhammad Usman Aslam

A UAF doctoral student learns advanced molecular techniques to combat shisham decline in Pakistan.

Hafiz Muhammad Usman Aslam, UAF doctoral scholar in plant pathology.
Hafiz Muhammad Usman Aslam, UAF doctoral scholar in plant pathology.

Hafiz Muhammad Usman Aslam, UAF doctoral scholar in plant pathology.

Hafiz Muhammad Usman Aslam, UAF doctoral scholar in plant pathology.

Hafiz Muhammad Usman Aslam, a doctoral student from the Department of Plant Pathology at UAF, thought he would focus on rice pathogens that are found throughout Punjab province during his exchange visit. Instead, he took advantage of the opportunity to learn several advanced molecular techniques while embedded in the laboratory of Dr. Pamela Ronald at UC Davis.

“I plan to use these techniques in my PhD research, and will also help implement these techniques in my parent department at UAF,” states Usman Aslam.

Dr. Ronald’s laboratory works on bacterial pathogens, and Usman’s research focuses on fungal pathogens. However, he changed his research plan so that he would be exposed to techniques that are also appropriate for his own investigations back in Faisalabad.

“This is a prestigious opportunity to observe cutting-edge research,” said Usman when asked about his exchange visit. “Davis is very advanced with their education of techniques. When I applied, I prepared my mind to be ready to fully take advantage of the education and opportunities at UC Davis.”

Usman Aslam got to work right away when he arrived in January. He focused initially on grasping the concepts behind the genomic DNA extraction techniques from plants, including polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification and purification. PCR is a technique used to amplify a few copies of a DNA segment, essentially creating thousands or millions of copies of a particular sequence for further investigations. Usman Aslam also learned how to clone PCR products, how to transform and isolate plasmids for research, and how to grow plant seeds in an in-vitro state for research purposes.

These methods translate directly into current research collaborations between Dr. Imran ul-Haq, a plant pathologist at UAF, and Dr. Lynn Epstein at UC Davis. The pair is working to establish a fungal culture bank at UAF for continued investigation into shisham (Dalbergia sissou) decline in Pakistan. Since that investigation is funded by a USPCAS-AFS research grant, Usman Aslam was invited into Dr. Epstein’s lab to work on that project.

While in Dr. Epstein’s lab, Usman familiarized himself with the different fungal pathogens that were sent from UAF, quantified the samples, prepared them for PCR amplification and purification, and began sequencing the results. He also learned how to preserve fungal isolates for longer time periods using the ‘filter paper method’, a cold-storage technique that was implemented at UAF by Dr. ul-Haq after his own exchange experience in Dr. Epstein’s lab.

At Usman’s exit seminar, Dr. Jim Hill praised Usman’s work ethic and willingness to adjust his research plan. “What you’ve done here is learn the technology that will be very useful to you back at UAF, and that’s one of the goals that we’ve had for the USPCAS-AFS project.”

The U.S.-Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies (USPCAS) is educating and training the next generation of scientists, engineers, and policy makers through innovative academic programs crucial for Pakistan’s development in agriculture and food security. Through applied research, academia-industry collaboration, and policy formation, USPCAS enhances Pakistan’s economic growth and prosperity. USPCAS was made possible by support from the American people through United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

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Profile written by Levi McGarry.