Universiteit Leiden

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Pakistan and the Netherlands: combining the best of both worlds

Majid Khan, born and raised in Pakistan, left his wife and daughter behind to do research in Leiden. After obtaining his PhD, the Netherlands has taken a special place in his heart. ‘Biking in the rain and wind was weird. But I loved it.’

Lucky number 14

Around 35 years ago, Khan caught his first breath in a small village of district Charsadda in the north-west of Pakistan. With only 200-300 citizens, it is a quiet and rural village. The climate is hot, with just little wind in the summer but an intense dry cold in the winter. After going to school during the nineties, Khan studied in the city Peshawar. After his bachelor’s in Biotechnology and Microbiology and master’s at the Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering he took a shot at a scholarship abroad. Of the thousands of applicants of his university, only fourteen were selected –Khan was one of them. 

Majid Khan

Leiden, Munich or Japan?

‘I got accepted for a PhD in Leiden, Munich and Japan’, says Khan. ‘I choose for an adventure in Leiden, because of the suggestion of one of my colleagues in Pakistan studied in Leiden, the University has good ratings, and the project corresponded well to my research during my master’s.’ A great choice, as turned out later: ‘I would definitely choose for Leiden again. The education is very good, I like the people, and I like the fact that everything is very well organised in the Netherlands. That’s quite different from my home town’, he says laughing.

Weird sandwiches

I got used to the Netherlands quickly, although I still don’t understand the weird sandwiches for lunch’, Khan says. ‘But the difficult thing was missing my family, especially my wife and daughter. But this also pushed me to work hard and finish my PhD fast. Luckily, everybody in the lab was very nice and always made some time to help me out.’

Protein, not gene

EU regulations discourage the genetic modification of plants. Therefore, I worked on protein translocation in plants. This basically means you transfer a protein instead of a gene.’ In his research, Khan tried to transfer proteins on four different plant species, namely Arabidopsis, tobacco, sweet pepper and tulip. ‘We succeeded in this, which was great. It was less effective as gene transformation, but with more research it can be an effective technique that could be used on large scale. The cool thing is that tulips were considered as unsuitable for protein translocation, but we got the first transgenic tulip shoots’, Khan says enthusiastically.


Khan used his cover of his thesis to symbolise his research. ‘I showed both the Dutch and the Pakistani flag, because I am very grateful for this opportunity. Pakistan supported me financially and the Netherlands provided the facilities. Furthermore, I used the colours red, blue and green. Red means the gene transfer, which people often think of as highly risky. Blue indicates the transition state, so both gene and protein transfer. And green indicates the environment friendly or non-risky protein transfer only.

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