Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS)

COMSATS’ Science Diplomacy Lecture Highlights Science Needs for Microbial Forensics

Home   /   COMSATS’ Science Diplomacy Lecture Highlights Science Needs for Microbial Forensics

A lecture under COMSATS’ Science Diplomacy Programme, entitled ‘Biosurveillance: Science Needs for Microbial Forensics’ was held on April 19, 2016, at COMSATS Secretariat, Islamabad, Pakistan. The lecture delivered by Dr. Habib Bokhari, Professor of Microbiology & Immunology at the Department of Biosciences, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT), Islamabad, was attended by faculty members and students from Biosciences Department, CIIT; Faculty Development Academy (FDA), CIIT; Atta-ur-Rahman School of Applied Biosciences (ASAB), National University of Science and Technology (NUST); Islamic International Medical College (IIMC), Riphah University; Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Medical University; Abasyn University; as well as representatives from National Veterinary Lab, Islamabad; Pathology Department of Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS); and COMSATS Secretariat.

In his opening remarks, the Executive Director COMSATS, Dr. I. E. Qureshi, gave a brief introduction of COMSATS Science Diplomacy Programme. He informed that the lectures under the Series delivered by relevant COMSATS Science Ambassadors and experts would be an ongoing activity to create awareness among public and policy-makers on scientific issues of national and regional importance. Referring to the last lecture delivered by him as Science Ambassador Emeritus, he recalled the two issues for which campaigning is necessary: i) appointment of Science Advisor to the Government of Pakistan; and ii) launching of ‘Grand Challenges Pakistan’. He urged the audience to participate in the lobbying for both initiatives.

Prof. Bokhari’s lecture was aimed at increasing awareness regarding microbial forensics among the members of the larger scientific communities and elucidated the major issues that need to be addressed for global development of the science of microbial forensics. His presentation touched upon the fundamental understanding of microbial forensics, relationship between microbial forensics, public health and biosurveillance, unprecedented genomic diversity, factors responsible for emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases, and history of biological warfare from 6th Century B.C to the present.

He began his presentation with exploring the origin of genome, RNA as earliest form of life on Earth, and molecular evolution of prokaryotes. He noted that little is known about most of the microbial world, and strain level differentiation in the microbes has added more complexities in their identification. However, the ability to sequence the genomes of microbes has provided an enormous amount of new knowledge about microbial world. He gave an overview of the scientific discoveries and inventions in relation to the infectious diseases during the last few centuries that have changed the course of history.

He briefed the participants about the Epidemiologic Triad of disease causation, consisting of host, pathogens and environment. He informed that the role of an epidemiologist is to break at least one of the sides of the triangle, disrupting the connection between the environment, the host, and the pathogen for stopping the propogation of disease.

He shared a ‘Convergence Model’ to simplify the understanding of the complex dynamics of emergence of infectious disease and to help conceptualize how microbe–host interaction is influenced by various factors leading to the emergence of infection. These factors he noted include: genetic and biological factors; physical environmental factors; ecological factors; and social, political, and economic factors.

He informed that a number of factors are at play behind emergence of infectious diseases and epidemics, which include: microbial adaptation and change; climate and weather; changing ecosystems; economic development and land use; international travel and commerce; lack of political will; poverty and social inequality; war and famine; and intent to harm.

It was shown with instances of recent outbreaks around the globe that infectious diseases can take a huge economic toll on countries. A number of examples of such losses included that of SARS with economic tolls of US$ 40-50 billion worldwide; foot-and-mouth disease (in UK), US$ 18-25 billion; and Avian Flu, US$ 25-30 billion. It was opined that the epidemics of cross-boundary nature can also result in strained relations among nations, such as the outbreak of mad cow disease resulted in trade conflict between the USA and Canada in early 2000s.

He also shared various examples of how hazardous nature of the infectious diseases was used to consciously inflict harm to masses, from the rudimentary knowledge of infectious diseases in ancient times to the use of sophisticated methods to spread biohazards as weapons during wars in modern times. He noted that due to low cost of production involved, bio-weapons/bio-terrorism would be major threats to public well-being in 21st century. He shared the list of bio-weapons reported to have been researched, developed, and weaponized in 1993 by USSR, and in US Bio-weapon Programme 1945-1969.

Dr. Bokhari noted that the world community has acknowledged biohazards’ huge potential of adversely affecting the masses and adopted conventions to restrict its use by means of Geneva Protocol 1925, Biological Weapon Convention 1972, and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004). The Resolution, he noted, addresses all weapons of mass destruction and obliges UN Member States “to refrain from supporting by any means non-state actors from developing, acquiring, manufacturing, possessing, transporting, transferring or using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their delivery systems”.

He considered it important to cater to relevant scientific needs for microbial forensics. The aim should be to prevent and reduce the likelihood of outbreaks—natural, accidental, or intentional; detect threats early to save lives; and respond rapidly and effectively using multi-sectoral, international coordination and communication. He highlighted the role of microbiologists in identifying and responding to the infectious diseases and other biological threats and considered coordination between microbiologists, veterinarians and public health officers crucial for preparedness for the epidemics/pandemics that may emerge in future.

In the context of Pakistan, Dr. Bokhari noted that many of the infectious diseases in Pakistan are preventable with the help of some very basic measures. He noted that the country has one of the worst infant mortality rates, 2nd highest hepatitis prevalence; and 6th highest TB prevalence. He further informed that there are 100 million hospitalizations and more than 50,000 deaths per year due to naturally occurring food-borne illnesses in Pakistan. Other health risks of national and regional level include: polio re-emergence, respiratory infections, diarrhea, malaria, and dengue. He stressed the need for early detection, reporting and monitoring of such diseases for effective containment.

Taking stock of the country’s preparedness to issues related to pandemics, epidemics, and bioterrorism, he noted the lack of necessary facilities, data and R&D activities in the country. He emphasized that establishing robust microbial forensic capabilities could enable the epidemiologists, public health policy makers, and law enforcement agencies to prevent, attribute and apprehend effectively.

During the concluding Q&A session, key observations were made and issues were raised related to: potential of pathogens genome sequencing for pathogens source tracing, attribution, and forensics; developing metadata standards for operational biosurveillance; monitoring of poultry farming as possible source of epidemics; need to create a regulatory body to monitor concerns regarding biohazards; and necessary sensitization of the public health specialists and legislators.

Upcoming Events

Workshop on Water Resources: Expected Crises and Strategies of Predomination, at National Research Centre, Egypt
Mar 11 – Mar 12 all-day

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Theme: “Rational Use of Water Resources”

Background and Rationale of the Workshop

Many parts of the world today are confronted by an acute water crisis that has several facets, including water deprivation among the world’s poor, fast-rising global water demand and climate change. The water security and poverty nexus is a particularly serious issue for development. Economic activity and growth, which are necessary for job creation and raising incomes in developing countries, depend on adequate, affordable and reliable supplies of water.

One of the main goals of the UN to be achieved by 2030 is to “substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity” (SDG No. 6).


Keeping in mind the SDG number 17: “Partnerships for the Goals”; the National Research Centre (NRC), Cairo and the Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS), Islamabad are co-organizing a workshop entitled “Water Resources: Expected Crises and Strategies of Predomination”.

Aims and Objectives

The workshop is designed to be an intensive co-working for specialists in the academic, administration and industrial sectors in all subjects of interest related to Science, Technology and Innovation. It will give them an opportunity to discuss, exchange opinion and reach recommendations of how to maximize efforts for rational use of water resources.

Targeted Participants

This event targets a wide range of participants, including:

  • Young scientists working in Science, Technology and Innovation with specific emphasis on water resources.
  • Academician working in industrial and service sectors related to water resources, and
  • Mid-to senior-level government officials in related Ministries.


All technical and discussion sessions of the workshop will be conducted in English language.

Financial Support

Accommodation for three nights in a suitable hotel and local transportation for international speakers and local administrative expenses of the workshop will be covered by NRC, Egypt. The economy class airfare and perdiam of the selected international speakers will be covered by COMSATS.


1. Water crisis in different parts of the world
2. Successful stories in water desalination
3. Successful stories in rational use of water in industrial sectors
4. Successful stories for rational use of water in agriculture
5. Future outlook regarding cooperative programs and projects among COMSATS Member States
6. Water recycling and utilization

How to Apply

Applications for participation (duly filled-in prescribed form, abstract of presentation, detailed CV and passport copy) are required to be submitted to NRC and COMSATS no later than Monday, 31st December 2018, at the following addresses:

Prof. Hosam El-Sayed
Assistant Vice President for Research &
International Relations
National Research Centre
33, El-Behouth St., 12311-Dokki,
Cairo, Egypt
Tel: (+20 100) 544 36 51
Fax: (+202 333) 701010

Mr. Farhan Ansari
Sr. Assistant Director (Programmes)
COMSATS Headquarters
Shahrah-e-Jamhuriat, G-5/2
Islamabad – Pakistan
Tel: (+92-51) 9214515-7
Fax: (+92-51) 9216539

The 22nd Meeting of COMSATS Coordinating Council, 16-17 April 2019, Tianjin, China
Apr 16 – Apr 17 all-day

The Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS) is pleased to announce the convening of the 22nd meeting of its Coordinating Council scheduled to be held in Tianjin, China, on 16 – 17 April 2019. The meeting will be hosted by COMSATS’ Centre of Excellence, the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology (TIB), Chinese Academy of Sciences, China. The meeting programme includes a visit to TIB’s laboratories on 18th April 2019.

The Coordinating Council meets every year, inter alia, to: review the activities of COMSATS’ Network; follow up on the decisions and recommendations made in the previous meeting; and outline the future course of action.

Invitations and Confirmation of Participation

The Executive Director COMSATS has extended invitations to all members of the Coordinating Council. The representatives of some international partner organizations have also been invited to participate in the meeting as Observers.

COMSATS Headquarters is closely coordinating with the host institution (TIB) to ensure timely arrangements.

Agenda and Working Paper

The provisional Agenda of the meeting has been prepared. The detailed Working Paper and associated documents of the meeting are under preparation and will be electronically distributed to the Council members and other invitees during first half of March 2019.

For further details, please contact:

COMSATS Secretariat, Pakistan TIB, China

Mr. Tajammul Hussain
Advisor (Programmes)
COMSATS Headquarters
Shahrah-e-Jamhuriat, G-5/2
Islamabad, Pakistan
Tel: (+92-51) 9204892
Fax: (+92-51) 9216539

Mr. Farhan Ansari
Sr. Assistant Director (Programmes)
COMSATS Headquarters
Shahrah-e-Jamhuriat, G-5/2
Islamabad, Pakistan
Tel: (+92-51) 9214515-7
Fax: (+92-51) 9216539

Prof. Dr. Jibin Sun
Deputy Director-General
Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology (TIB), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)
Tianjin, China
32 West 7th Avenue, Tianjin Airport Economic Area, Tianjin 300308, China
Tel: 0086-22-84861949
Fax: 0086-22-84861943

Ms. Qianqian Chai
Officer of Foreign Affairs and Academic Exchange
Division of Science and Technology Development
Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology (TIB), Chinese Academy of Sciences(CAS)
32 West 7th Avenue, Tianjin Airport Economic Area, Tianjin 300308, China
Tel: +86-2284861925