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Of magic and microbiology!

A brilliant cook and a gifted magician, Prof Chhatwal has also gained renown for his work on a killer bacterium.

india Updated: Jun 08, 2006 19:42 IST

Whether he is enthralling people with his magic tricks or debating on the latest advances in microbiology, Professor Gursharan Singh Chhatwal does both with ease.

Chhatwal is considered a brilliant cook and a gifted magician. But the scientist from India has also gained renown for his work against the killer streptococci bacterium.

"It is no problem for me to cook even for 100 people," says Chhatwal, who pursues magic as a hobby and is a cooking enthusiast.

But by profession, he is a trained microbiologist specialising in research on bacteria. Since 1988, he has been working with the Society for Biotechnological Research in the north German city of Braunschweig.

Streptococci are responsible for throat infections. But depending on what type of streptococcus is involved, the disease can have serious long-term effects. Particularly dangerous is a rheumatic heart ailment, which, if untreated, can lead to death.

"With better medical treatment, 500,000 children could be saved each year," Chhatwal says. In India alone, an estimated six million schoolchildren suffer from the effects of a streptococcus infection.

"Out of 100 children with a sore throat, about five will get heart disease," he says.

Chhatwal is currently developing a test that can help to identify early on which children are actually in danger. "In order for the test to be applied, it must be simple, fast and cheap," the microbiologist says.

In cooperation with Swedish and Scottish scientists as well as with three major hospitals in India, Chhatwal is preparing a study, to be carried out over three years and involving 300,000 Indian schoolchildren.

"The test is not dangerous and you don't need any equipment for it," he says. A simple swab is all that will be needed to identify the pathogen.

Born September 22, 1949, in a merchant's family in Chandigarh, Chhatwal studied in Mumbai, Japan and Canada. In 1978 he returned to India and got an offer to pursue research in Germany.

"I did not want to go to Germany - the language, the culture, everything was unknown to me. But doing research in India at the time was wrought with major obstacles. Even procuring materials was difficult," he recalls.

So he accepted an offer at Giessen University, arriving in Germany in 1980. He had planned to stay for one, perhaps two, years owing to the good research opportunities. But then he met Ingeborg, now his wife, and has been here since.

The couple lives with their two children in Gross Denkte, a village outside Braunschweig.

"I never had any integration problems," the Indian scientist says.

But he never did become a great fan of German cuisine.

"On Sundays we always eat German fare but otherwise I do the cooking - Indian style," says Chhatwal who prepares delicacies in his large kitchen not only for his family but also for colleagues and friends.