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Mind Games: Meet Kashmir Neuroscientist Who Bagged US$1.8 Million Fellowship

SRINAGAR: Mubarak Hussain Syed, an assistant professor of Biology at The University of New Mexico, has received the prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, Mary Beth King reported on the university’s website. The award will allow Syed to pursue his passions of understanding brain development and function, mentoring students, and science outreach.

Mubarak Hussain Syed with his colleagues and students at the Doe Laboratory. Pic: Personal FB Mubarak Hussain Syed

Syed us working on Mechanisms regulating neural identity, connectivity and function- From stem cells to circuits, a project that would receive the US $1.8 million over five years.

Syed is a neuroscientist. Born and brought up in Budgam, Syed is a father, and a scientist exploring the mysteries of a fruit fly brain. “I did my PhD at the University of Muenster Germany, where I was working with Christian Klaembt as an International Max Planck fellow,” he has said to a website. “Before starting my lab at the University of New Mexico, I worked as a post-doc with Chris Doe, who is an HHMI investigator at the University of Oregon. Neurotree.” Syed said he gets excited about science, science advocacy, diversity, open access, travels, running, hiking, and playing cricket. Currently, he lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In Srinagar, he had started an organization JKScientists when he was a graduate student. “It is a public organization now, and thanks to the young generation of students, it is moving forward,” he has said.

Mubarak Hussain Syed carrying his son Jibran in typical traditional Kashmir style. This has been the old style of helping kids stay warm during winters. Mubarak Hussain Syed

Syed is interested in the development and function of neurons, glia (other cell types in the human brain), and neural circuits. Syed’s lab studies developmental programs regulating neural diversity and function – from stem cells to neural circuits, the website informs.

“Over the years, I have gained experience in developmental neuroscience, and now we are aiming to establish a link between developmental mechanisms and adult behaviours using Drosophila, or fruit flies, as a model system,” he has told the website. “I have been working with fruit flies for over a decade. They are incredible creatures and have led to many fundamental discoveries in many fields, including the development, genetics, and neuroscience.

“We are currently studying neural stem cell-specific programs that regulate the identity and function of neural types that populate adult Drosophila central complex – a highly conserved brain structure necessary for complex behaviours, including sensor motor integration, locomotor action selection and sleep”

Syed will use the NSF CAREER award to achieve his three passions: research, engaging a diverse population of undergraduate students into neuroscience research, and science outreach.

What Is His Research About?

“The molecular mechanisms that regulate the formation and function of neural cell types are not fully understood. Our lab will investigate this long-standing problem using the Drosophila central model system. Through this award, the studies will advance the field by identifying the mechanisms that regulate neural diversity, identity, and function of neural circuits,” Syed explained. “This will enhance our fundamental knowledge of how neural cell types are generated and assembled so we can better harness stem cells to treat disorders such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, and autism.”

Mubarak Hussain Syed with his outside the Mughal Garden in Srinagar. Mubarak Hussain Syed

Besides, he is engaging undergraduate students in research. “I aim to recruit undergraduate researchers to carry out experiments in a lab-based neurogenetics lab course through this award. This neuroscience course will provide a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) NeuroCURE to a diverse group of learners, thus allowing them to better identify themselves as scientists with the capacity to engage in a critical field of study actively. This course will be the first neuroscience lab course offered to undergraduates at the UNM Biology.”

“After teaching genetics and neuroscience to junior and senior undergraduates, I realized most of these students feel lost, have little information about research and research-oriented fields, and needed direction. I have started an informal mentorship program called NEURONAL:  Neuroscience Experiences and Undergraduate Research Opportunities for Native Americans, African Americans, and Latinos/Hispanic. “

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