Professor Datin Paduka Dr Khatijah Mohamad Yusoff is a highly respected academician and a much acclaimed virologist who has distinguished herself through her extensive work on the Newcastle Disease Virus (NDV), a poultry virus. Professor Khatijah was born in Penang in 1956. After receiving her early education there, she won a Colombo Plan Scholarship to La Trobe University, Australia, for her tertiary education where she graduated with a First-Class Honours in Microbiology in 1979. She then won a La Trobe University research scholarship to complete her PhD on “Genetic and molecular analysis of plasmid RP1: Interactions with prophage B3 and aspects of conjugal transmission.” In 1985, her post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, United Kingdom, opened up for her the world of paramyxoviruses and she was the first person to sequence the complete L gene which encodes the polymerase, an important enzyme involved in NDV replication while doing her post-doctoral fellowship.
Her research has now further expanded into the understanding of virus-cancer cell interactions. NDV is usually not harmful to normal human cells but it has a certain proclivity to home in on human cancer cells. Professor Khatijah is now directing her research to focus on the novel use of NDV as an anticancer agent as well as a carrier for anticancer drugs in targeted chemotherapies. In doing so, she is unraveling exciting mechanisms of NDV-cell interactions in the use of NDV in the treatment of cancers. Her research team is developing various forms of delivery systems using the lactic acid bacteria and nanobiotechnology into cancer cells through recognition of surface display of tumor associated antigens.
As an exponent of Science, Professor Khatijah’s five-year stint as the Deputy Secretary General of Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) gave her an opportunity to promote science through policies and development of a strong framework in managing Science in the country. She was instrumental in re-activating the Office of the Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, establishing the National Science and Research Council, the Nanotechnology Directorate, the National Bioethics Council, and the National Institutes of Biotechnology. She was also involved in the drafting of the National STI Policy, Science Act, Oceans Policy, Space Policy, and Nanotechnology Policy. These various policies have had far-reaching consequences in enhancing Science and, moreover, contributed to the Nation’s sustainable competitive advantage.
Professor Khatijah is a strong believer in the need to translate science into tangible benefits for people around the world. This opportunity came when she was head-hunted to sit on the Board of Trustees of the international Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) based in Kenya and Ethiopia. This organization, supported by governments and philanthropists, is dedicated to bringing science to poor farmers in Africa.
As a teacher in science, Professor Khatijah is a dedicated lecturer who has received the Excellent Service Award on several occasions from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM). A strong believer in the need for a “community of researchers” she enjoys teaching students and, through the interest instilled in them, many of her undergraduate students have continued their studies to the postgraduate level and have themselves become academicians. She has served on various committees, particularly in the development and promotion of teaching and learning as well as in scientific research. Together with her colleagues, she has supervised over 130 postgraduate students, 110 of whom have graduated.
Professor Khatijah has contributed to the growth of UPM through the various posts she has assumed. She was promoted to Associate Professor in 1994 and became a full Professor in 2001. She served as the Head of the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology in 2000 at the Faculty of Science and Environmental Studies. Instrumental in establishing the Faculty of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences (BioTech) at UPM she became BioTech’s first Deputy Dean for Research and Graduate Studies from 2004 till 2006 before she was promoted to Dean. In 2007, Professor Khatijah became the first woman to be appointed as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Academic and International Affairs at UPM. In 2015, she was recognised as Tokoh Pekerja under the Management and Professional (Academic) Category.
Professor Khatijah’s work has been recognised both nationally and internationally. She was accorded UNESCO’s Carlos Finlay Prize for microbiology in 2005, the second Asian scientist to receive such an honour. She was earlier honoured by the Houghton Trust to deliver the 3rd Houghton Lecture at the XIIth World Veterinary Poultry Association (WVPA) Congress in 2002 for her contributions to the poultry industry, the first Asian scientist to be bestowed such an honour. In 2008, she received the Distinguished Alumni Award from her alma mater, La Trobe University, the ninth person to receive this honour from over its 120,000 alumni. She was recently identified as one of the top 20 most influential women in science in the Islamic World for 2014 by Muslim-Science.Com. She was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia in 2007 and a Fellow of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences in 2008 and The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) in 2010, often elected to their Councils. She is recently elected as the Vice President of TWAS.
Professor Khatijah has also received a number of awards including the National Young Scientist Award in 1990 by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment. She has since received many prizes, medals and other recognitions notably the Australian Education Achievement Award 2013, Zakri Award in 2013, Mendel Lecturer in 2009 and Microbiologist of the Year Award in 2009. In 2006, HRH the Sultan of Selangor bestowed her the Royal Award “Dato’ Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah” (D.S.I.S.) which carries the title “Datin Paduka”. In 2010, La Trobe University awarded her DSc (honoris causa
Professor Khatijah acknowledges with great appreciation that her success has been achieved through continuing great contribution and support from her colleagues, students, funding agencies and members of her family thus making this a meaningful and rewarding journey.
Currently the Dean of the Faculty of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at UPM, Professor Khatijah’s work has been recognised both locally and internationally. This in turn has made her and Malaysia widely known on the global front for contributions in microbiology. Her message to young Malaysians looking to make an impact in their field is to “never give up, value the importance of teamwork” and, finally, “do something that they love.”
As a researcher, Professor Khatijah’s early work established the molecular biology of the Newcastle Disease Virus (NDV) with the determination of the first complete sequence of the L gene, epitope mapping of the haemagglutinin-neuraminidase and fusion proteins, and the molecular biology of local NDV strains including the challenge strain AF2240 and a heat stable vaccine strain V4(UPM). In this regard, her work and research in the field of microbiology and virology through a better understanding and diagnosis of contagious and fatal viruses in poultry and the study of the potential of the virus in combating cancer cells embodies the Spirit of Merdeka.