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Karachi University Chemical Engineering Department

Demonstration by Chem Engg students at KU
Karachi, July 18, 2008: Students belonging to the Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Karachi (KU), demonstrated in front of the Administration block on Thursday to seek help from the KU in getting accreditation of their degrees from Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) and better classroom and laboratories facilities in their department.

The students expressed their anguish that a department that was established in 1995 still lacked the basic facilities that are a requirement of the PEC for according their (PEC) accreditation.

Dr Nusrat Idrees, the KU Students Adviser, said that the students had met her last week and she had arranged a meeting of the students with the VC.

Dr Khalid Iraqi, Campus Security Adviser, informed that the representatives of the protesting students were allowed to see the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (PVC), Dr Akhlaq Ahmed, who is officiating Vice-Chancellor (PVC) in the absence of the VC. "The students talked to the PVC in a peaceful manner and were assured by Dr Ahmed that their (the students') interests were of paramount importance to them and would be solved. The News

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KU research identifies coastal plants capable of producing edible oil, diesel
Karachi: Research at the University of Karachi (KU) disclosed that 100 wild plants of coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan can produce edible oil and bio-diesel and the final research report will be released within a year.

The KU's Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilization (ISHU) is conducting this research. This institute is first in the world to work on halophytes and started in 2007. KU established the ISHU with the support of the Higher Education Commission (HEC), which issued a Rs 37 million grant for its establishment. The ultimate aim of the ISHU is to utilize halophytes as fodder crops, oil seeds, medicinal plants and bio-fuels.

Recently the ISHU started research on 100 wild plants of the Sindh and Balochistan coastal areas, which can produce edible oil and bio-diesel. In the research, it was mentioned that Pakistan currently faces a severe shortage of good quality water for human consumption and for conventional agriculture. Irrigated land is highly susceptible to salinity and it is estimated that large chunks of cultivated areas in Pakistan are becoming saline. Halophytes can be used as oil-seed crop on highly saline soils or where the available water is of poor quality. There are reports that indicate that some halophytes produce edible oil of better quality than the commonly used palm oil. The seed oil study of different halophytes showed that on average, seed oil contained 84 percent unsaturated fatty acids, favorable from a nutritional point of view.

However, when selecting such a crop, several considerations have to be made, including suitability of the crop in the given ecosystem, quality of the oil, potential to be used as edible oil, ease of harvest, oil content, protein meal quality, quantity of ash present, sustainable irrigation system and management of cultivated lands. The use of halophytes from Pakistan as a seed oil crop seems to be the best available alternative.

"We have examined 40 seeds of wild plants out of 100 in the coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan. This research study will be launched within a year. The nation can reap the benefits of these plants, through a reduced shortage of edible oil, using native resources," ISHU Director Professor Dr M. Ajmal Khan said on Wednesday, adding that there is no need for high yielding agricultural land or sweet water for these crops, instead the most arid land and salty water will be used. This eliminates the need to make arrangements for sweet water and the best agricultural land, said Khan, suggesting that those perennial halophytes be used that can be grown once and simply managed for a very long time without reseeding. This will save time and effort to grow them and will make them economically viable. Fine-tuning of the technology will be required to address local environmental constraints.

Research will include distribution and soil-water-plant relationship, population biology, demography, seed bank dynamics, eco-physiology, seed germination, photosynthesis, water relations, growth and development, salt tolerance, biochemistry, oxidative stress, and chloroplast DNA, RNA and gene-protein regulation.

The ISHU, led by Khan, has completed its important assignment on 'Halophytes as an alternative source of cattle feed'. This project was completed with the support of Zia-ul-Haq and Sons, a fodder company in the Balochistan coastal area.

Animals are generally fed a mixture of dry and green fodder, which are in short supply and expensive to procure. Wheat, rice and straw are generally the most common dry fodder while corn and sorghum are the major sources of green fodder. All these crops require good land and good water for growth. Good arable land and irrigation-quality water, which are becoming scarce with time, are needed to produce crops for human consumption. Pastures and grazing lands have to rely on rain, an unreliable source, and in less productive areas, including salt-affected lands, vegetation changes to more hardy plants species, including halophytes.

While the halophytes may be productive under the harsh conditions of soil containing high salt levels, which they manage by balancing their internal osmotic potential through salt accumulation in their foliage, how fit they are for animal consumption requires proper feeding trials in which ill effects, if any, on animal health must be monitored. The present project aims to study the possibility of decreasing dependence on traditional dry and green fodder by replacing both with suitable halophytic plants.

"Salt marshes and salt deserts are considered wasteland, however, such habitats are national assets and harbor many salt-tolerant species with a high economic potential for increased food, fiber and medicinal production. Besides, they are a crucial part of the complex natural ecosystems which they help sustain," said Khan, adding that the ISHU has completed this project in Jivni, in Balochistan, where fodder is grown on waste salty land, using salty water. "We now working on to increase the yield per hectare, attempting to double the yield from the current 60,000 kg per hectare per year," he explained. The benefits of this success will go to improving the quality of life of the poor people of the arid areas of Pakistan, particularly in Sindh and Balochistan.

He said that the ISHU needs investors who can launch these projects for the benefit of the general public and earn profits. Daily Times

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