Filipino Faces of Biotechnology Awards: 8 PHL biotech experts recognized

biotechnology experts with the Filipino Faces of Biotechnology Awards during special ceremonies held at a hotel in Manila on December 2. (From left) DA-BPO Director-Coordinator Annalyn L. Lopez; awardees Dr. Mary Beth B. Maningas, 2020; Dr. Ma. Carmen A. Lagman, 2020; Alicia G. Ilaga, 2021; Dr. Teresita M. Espino, 2020; and Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, 2021; and DA Undersecretary Fermin D. Adriano. Not in photo are Arthur R. Baria, 2020 awardee; Dr. Ramon C. Barba, 2021 awardee (posthumous); and Juanito T. Rama, 2021 awardee (posthumous).

Filipinos who have exemplary work and have contributed to the advancement of biotechnology in the Philippines were once again recognized with the Filipino Faces of Biotechnology Awards by the Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Program Office (DA-BPO).

The ceremonies for the fifth and sixth Faces of Biotechnology awards were held in person at a hotel in Manila on December 2.

In his video message, Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar pointed out that the DA continues to employ realistic approaches in communicating the beneficial applications and impacts of biotechnology on food security, food safety, and agricultural resiliency and sustainability.

Dar pointed out that the Filipino Faces of Biotechnology Awards bring biotech closer to people by sharing real-life and powerful stories that inspire others to continuously propel in bringing the benefits of biotechnology to most people.

He added that the awards celebrate the country’s journey to farther miles in the advancement of genuine public acceptance and support to the use of biotech in agriculture, health, environment, information, education and policy.

“The awardees’ experiences, the challenges and hardships they have embraced, the obstacles they have overcome, and their contributions to the advancement of biotech to the country are truly inspiring and motivational,” he said.

“Biotech needs champions who could reach more farmers and fisherfolk and harness the potential of biotech in solving our current agri issues,” Dar said.

For his part, Agriculture Undersecretary Fermin D. Adriano underscored that the essence of recognizing Filipinos who made a dent in the field of Philippine agribiotechnology.

“I treat the awardees today as the vanguards of biotechnology. We recognize your contribution for all the things you can do for the good of this country. DA recognizes the discoveries of what Filipino scientists can produce that can alter the force of history,” he said.

Owing to the strict pandemic protocol last year, the awardees for the fifth edition of the awards for 2020 were recognized online but the formal awarding was held this year, together with the 2021 sixth edition awardees.

DA-BPO Director-Coordinator Annalyn L. Lopez led the awarding ceremonies together with Adriano.

The 2020/fifth Faces of Biotechnology awardees:

Arthur R. Baria for his achievements in biotechnology R&D and regulations in the country.

His strong leadership led to the development of Robusta coffee upstream value chain to ensure a stream of sustainable source of green coffee supply. He was behind the commercialization of the first biotech corn in the country and Asia-Pacific.

This translated the genetically modified corn research initiative of the private sector into a viable commercial product that changed the landscape of the corn and livestock industries as exemplified by thousands of Filipino farmers benefitting from it to-date.

Dr. Teresita M. Espino for her leadership and remarkable R&D initiatives in biotechnology. One of the country’s noted biotechnologists, she went back as a Balik Scientist despite a stable and promising career abroad.

 Her expertise in the field of enzyme and monoclonal antibody technology has resulted in the development of technologies which are now used by several sectors.

Her work on banana and abaca bunchy top control and rehabilitation programs are one of the most successful programs that contributes to agricultural productivity for small farmers. The production of disease-free planting materials through tissue culture has benefited the agriculture sector.

Dr. Ma. Carmen A. Lagman for her contribution in science teaching and R&D in marine biotechnology. She is a researcher and scientist with over 30 years of research experience providing expertise in population genetics and molecular ecology of marine organisms.

Her efforts led to the establishment of the Practical Genomics Laboratory at De La Salle University to meet the need for RNA and DNA marker-based technologies for practical problems in aquaculture, fisheries, and agriculture along with the Molecular Genetics Laboratory at the Worldfish Center.

Dr. Mary Beth B. Maningas for pioneering and excelling in international and local research studies in aquatic biotechnology. Her most innovations benefited shrimp farmers through the cost-effective, onsite, and rapid diagnostics kit for white spot syndrome virus.

To help and encourage students pursue research in aquatic biotechnology, she pioneered the acquisition of multi-million grants from international and local funding agencies to establish the laboratory for aquatic molecular biology and biotechnology in the University of Sto. Tomas.

2021/sixth Faces of Biotechnology awardees

Dr. Ramon C. Barba (posthumous) for being an outstanding inventor and scientist for pioneering remarkable research on tropical crops through biotechnology. He developed a process that brought the flowering and fruiting of mango trees three times a year.

He advanced the research on various tropical crops. His many research breakthroughs include banana micropropagation and tissue culture of sugarcane and calamansi that gave lasting impact on the respective agribusiness potentials.

With his research team, he devised micro propagation protocols for more than 40 important species of fruit crops, ornamental plants, plantation crops, aquarium plants, and forest trees.

Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio for being a distinguished plant breeder, educator, and advocate for agricultural biotechnology. He pioneered in the use of participatory plant breeding methods to develop varieties for the coastal saline areas of Bangladesh.

His studies on genetics and molecular mapping led to the production of salt-tolerant rice varieties in the Philippines, Bangladesh, and India. Through his leadership, his team later developed superior germplasm that combined tolerance for salinity with high yields; and for irrigated and rainfed lowland with good tolerance to iron toxicity and drought.

Gregorio is the director of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) and a professor at the Institute of Crops Science, University of the Philippines Los Baños. 

Alicia G. Ilaga for pushing frontiers of research, capacity enhancement and advocacy for agricultural biotechnology.

She provided full support from the development of laboratories to regulatory compliance of local GM organisms (GMOs), worked toward the institutionalization of the National Biotech Week, and pushed for the establishment of the DA Agricultural Biotechnology Centers.

She mobilized the different DA institutions to develop a unified campaign to promote biotechnology—its application, supporting policies and investments. She took on the campaign in support of biotechnology and GMO by widening the supportive alliance with outside partners beyond the strong DA position.

Juanito T. Rama (posthumous) for his advocacies as a distinguished biotech farmer-leader and as a champion of agricultural biotechnology.

He began using Bt corn in 2006 that was then a humble undertaking which he described as a time when he and his group received little belief from others regarding their potential for success.

But he saw the positive effects of their endeavor, which reached a high point in 2012 when he was able to accomplish what was hailed as a “record-breaking harvest” of almost 200,000 kilograms of yellow corn per hectare.

Acceptance

In his acceptance message, Gregorio expressed his gratitude to DA-BPO and acknowledged the “body” and the “spirit” of his success—”none other than our teams and our loved ones who are with us in the process to make biotech a reality.”

He said biotechnology is the game-changer for the country’s agri-food system.

“Due attention must be given to our resource-poor farmers by providing them unbiased access to information, best practices, and new technologies that empower them,” the Searca web site quoted him as saying.

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