“My mission is to understand interkingdom microbial interaction in order to trace keystone taxa that can be exploited at the global scale for management of plant pathogens. I am combining skills in microbial ecology, taxonomy, nanotechnology and molecular biology in an interdisciplinary scenario involving excellent researchers”
When I was growing up in Karachi (a big city in Pakistan with a lot of cultural diversity), I was not one of those students who spent a lot of time reading, but I naturally born good at memorizing things faster with good analytical capabilities. Thus, I spent the majority of my time enjoying sports rather than studying. In my studies, a turning point was reached at 8th grade, when I moved to one of the best schools in town (even good in Karachi). Math was my strongest subject in matriculation, scoring 99/100 on the examination. The same was true of physics and chemistry. When I was in intermediate, biology was never on my radar, but I had no choice because my mother wanted me to be a doctor. I responded to this as an egotistic person by never taking biology in the next two years as a protest, but guess what? I scored higher in biology than any other subject.
“My father used to give me tricky math puzzles to let me know how smart I am while I wasted time playing sports. My mother hired a very strict teacher to keep me in the tuition till sunset and not let me play in the grounds”
After finishing intermediate, my life took a sudden turn when I realized that I would not be able to continue my studies in Karachi because my parents are from the Punjab province of Pakistan. The news of leaving Karachi and moving to Sargodha Pakistan has broken my heart first time in 18 years. In choosing what to study next after intermediate, my cousin (now my wife) chose Agriculture for me to study with her.
“Leaving Karachi and moving to Punjab for studies was never in my plan”
For the first two semesters of my undergraduate program, I was not interested in any subject until I had the opportunity to study plant pathology and entomology in third semester. Plant pathology gave me a sense of what it will be like to be a microbiologist in the future. My interest motivated me to gather students with low CGPA in BSc to start Plant Pathology as a major for the first time at University College of Agriculture, University of Sargodha, Pakistan. As soon as I began majoring in plant pathology, I had a burning desire to learn how microbes cause diseases in plants and what methods could be used to combat them. Now as Postdoctoral Fellow in CAS on the Presidents International Fellowship Initiative (PIFI), I channel this long-held passion to better understand how soil microbes alter disease progression in the plants.
“I am interested in figuring out how microorganisms inhabiting the soil affect the host-nematode interactions, from the soil to the root that affects the plant’s ability to fight parasitic worms”
Dr. Muzammil Hussain presenting his research finding at the conference arranged by “The World Academy of Sciences (twas)”
When I first graduated from the University of Sargodha, I worked for half a year as an intern at a National Agricultural Research Center, Islamabad, Pakistan. I then went back to the University of Sargodha for a Master’s degree and worked on the diagnosis of postharvest fungal pathogens. I was fortunate enough to discover new hosts of fungal plant pathogens, and have published those findings in a reputed journal of American Phytopathological Society “Plant Disease”. During my year-long Master’s program, I applied to prestigious PhD programs announced by the Chinese Academy of Science under the “2014 CAS-TWAS President’s Fellowship Programme for PhD Candidates from Developing Countries”. I knew I wanted to study plant disease-based research of some kind. Ultimately, I got accepted into the Microbiology PhD program at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China. My thesis research focuses on identifying keystone microbes from suppressive soils for biocontrol of plant-parasitic nematodes. I participated in projects covering different aspects from molecular biology to microbial ecology that gave me great insights into what a career in scientific research can be.
“Choosing the right supervisor for your PhD is crucial if you want to stay in academics since this is the point from which you will either move forward or end up doing something else”
During my PhD research, we investigated how suppressive soils inhibit soybean cyst nematodes. We analyzed the microbial communities in the nematode cysts, bulk soil, rhizosphere, and root endosphere of soybean plants grown in disease-suppressive and disease-conductive soils using Illumina Miseq sequencing. After coupling culture-independent and culture-dependent methods, we isolated and investigated disease-suppressive microbes and deciphered molecular mechanisms. We further resolved an important ecological question that how the microbial communities assemble and establish in the nematode cyst environment. Moreover, I worked on the genetics of nematophagous fungi and functionally characterized the genes involved in virulence, conidiation, and stress. This project gave me practical knowledge of working with microbes at the genetic level.
Dr. Muzammil Hussain feeling the energy of plant and soil as it is said “How can I stand on the ground every day and not feel its power? How can I live my life stepping on this stuff and not wonder at it? —W. B. Logan”
As an early career researcher, I have published over 25 peer-reviewed research papers and review articles in many of the most highly regarded journals, including Plant Disease, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, FEMS Microbiology Ecology, Biological Control, Applied Soil Ecology, Science China-Life Sciences, Frontiers in Microbiology and Fungal Biology. There have been more than 600 citations to my work, which has increased my h-index to 13. In 2018, I was the recipient of the Excellent International Graduate Award from the University of Chinese Academy for significant contributions to the discipline of microbiology. I am amazed to see how much the plant-microbe interactions research field has grown and excited to see that more people are interested in understanding the interplay between soil microbes and plants, the pathogens, and diseases development. I am currently serving as editor in some of the good journals including BMC Plant Biology, BMC Microbiology, Frontiers in Plant Science and Frontiers in Microbiology.
“The best of me is yet to come”
Looking back at my experiences, I think what really helped me get where I am today were the opportunities available to me. At every stage in my academic career, there were colleagues providing a foundation for me to work towards seizing the next opportunity. My experiences speak to their genuine investment in their friend success. Over my 8 Years at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (2014-2022), I definitely learned valuable skills that have helped prepare me for my scientific career.
Dr Muzammil enjoying Ice cream with his friends after having rough day in lab.