Estb. 1882

University of the Punjab

Prof. Dr. Muhammad Akhtar

Founding Director General
Prof. Dr. Muhammad Akhtar

Prof Muhammad Akhtar read Chemistry at the Government College, Lahore - University of the Punjab, Lahore, graduating to MSc degree with a Gold Medal in 1954. Prof Akhtar went to the UK in 1956, completing his PhD degree under the supervision of Prof BCL Weedon FRS, from Imperial College - University of London in 1959. He then worked for four years as a Research Associate under the Nobel Laureate Sir Derek Barton FRS, at the Research Institute of Medicine and Chemistry, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, researching on the development and delineation of the mechanism of the Barton Reaction.
He was appointed to a Lectureship at the University of Southampton in 1963, becoming a Professor in 1973. Prof Akhtar was the Head of Department of Biochemistry from 1978-1993, and concurrently the Chairman of the School of Biochemical and Physiological Sciences from 1983-1987. He has also held the positions of Chairman of the Institute of Biomolecular Sciences from 1989-1990, and Director of SERC Molecular Recognition Centre from 1990-1994. He is now Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry. Even though a rather discriminating author, he has published 200 original research papers in refereed journals and many specialist chapters in technical books.
He was elected to the Royal Society in 1980, and has served on its Council and various Committees. He is recipient of the National Award, Sitara-i-Imtiaz, from the Government of Pakistan, and of Flintoff Medal from the Royal Society of Chemistry. The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan has honoured him with the title of Distinguished National Professor. He is one of the Founding Fellows of the Third World Academy of Sciences and has served it in various top positions, including Vice-President, Treasurer and Member of the Council, and Chairman of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Committee. He is also a Foreign Fellow of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences. Dr Akhtar is an Honorary Fellow of the University College London, and was given an Honorary DSc degree by the Karachi University.
Among his research interests, the principal areas of his studies have concerned with “the elucidation of the stereochemistry and chemical mechanisms of enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of complex natural products, and the studies on visual proteins”. He has been at the forefront of applying the principles of stereochemistry and mechanistic organic chemistry to the elucidation of a wide variety of biological problems. Prof Akhtar has contributed to the understanding of the mechanisms through which the intricate architectures of cholesterol and ergosterol are elaborated by mammalian liver and yeast, respectively; of haem, which is one of the components of the oxygen carrying protein, haemoglobin, produced in the red blood cells; and of sex hormones, androgen and oestrogen, biosynthesised in gonads. Apart from their relevance to biosyntheses, these studies cumulatively defined the complete substrate stereochemistry of at least a dozen enzymes, also shedding new light on their catalytic mechanisms. The mechanistic principles signalled by these investigations, in many instances, were found to typify a general phenomenon.
The work on oestrogen biosynthesis, particularly, was seminal in highlighting that a certain P-450 group of enzymes catalyse a diverse range of generic reactions at a single active site. This discovery prompted a critical analysis of the chemical features of iron-containing-oxygen-binding proteins and led to the proposal of a unified hypothesis which views a wide variety of biological oxidation processes as variations on a common mechanistic theme. The insight provided by such studies is helping in designing a novel class of antioestrogens which have potential use in the treatment of one particular type of breast cancer.
His interest in the vision field, which is distinguished by his pioneering studies at the elucidation of the mode and site of binding of the retinal chromophore in bovine rhodopsin, has found general application to other classes of retinal-based proteins. Now, the primary sequences of a large number of visual proteins, including four from human eye, have been elucidated by other workers using either protein or DNA sequencing. In all these cases, the site of retinal-binding was inferred from Prof Akhtar’s original experimental work on bovine rhodopsin. His group was also the first to describe the structure of bovine rhodopsin in terms of seven trans-membrane segments. This latter feature, which was subsequently confirmed in other laboratories using more advanced approaches, seems to have been conserved in the structures of all animal rhodopsins described todate. His subsequent research in the field showed that rhodopsin, after being activated by light, interacts with other proteins of the retina setting the stage first for the transmission of message to brain and then termination of the signal in preparation for the next event. Of the two enzymes involved in the latter scenario, phosphoopsin phosphatase and rhodopsin kinase, the former was described by Prof Akhtar’s group.
Prof Akhtar was invited by the Government of Punjab in 2002 to set up the School of Biological Sciences for MPhil/PhD training. The school is functioning outstandingly entirely in his vision. At the outset, he had proposed a research effort in the areas of: (a) production of medically important compounds particularly protein-products; (b) agriculture-related research designed to solve specific problems; and (c) to focus on developing and devising DNA-based diagnostic procedures. The original three-year plan of work is evolving into dynamic areas of the related research. In addition to handling the organizational and administrative duties of the school, Prof Akhtar has continued with the pursuit of his own research interests. Accordingly, apart from continuing with the mechanistic work on aminolevulinate synthase class of enzymes, he has set-up a programme of research on the expression and purification of proteins of biomedical and industrial importance. In a few cases, the proteins that he and his group have engineered at the school in Lahore have been used for biophysical studies by his former research associates in Southampton. The collaborative work with one of these has been of significance, which has enabled the use of the H/D exchange approach to successfully probe the interrelations between the secondary structure elements of insulin from various species to their corresponding proinsulin. He has continued to pursue this research effort through supervision of PhD students at the School of Biological Sciences. Consequently, to the list of his 60 successful PhD students at Southampton, 8 more have been added in Lahore, with another 6 at various stages of preparation of their doctoral theses.
Research Interests:
Biochemistry Sterochemistry, Enzymology and Protein

Designation:- Founding Director General