Sunday, November 20, 2016

7TH NIGQC, Huge Start for Genetics Week 2016

By Jerard Monge

NIGQC 2016 contest winners together with the contest judgest.

The 7th National Intercollegiate Genetics Quiz Contest (NIGQC) officially started The UPLB Genetics Society’s Genetics Week last November 5 at the UPLB NCAS Auditorium. With the theme “Breed and Transform: Genetics and Agriculture Towards Food Security and Sustainability,” NIGQC 2016 rose above its preceding installments with a seminar and a fresh twist to the quiz competition.

From L to R: NIGQC Head Rency Raquid, NIGQC 2016 Guest Speaker
Dr. B.P. Mallikarjuna Swamy of IRRI and GeneSoc President Merc Matienzo
Dr. Merlyn S. Mendioro, the current director of the Institute of Biological Sciences – UPLB and the senior adviser of The UPLB Genetics Society welcomed the participants prior to the Synapsis (Individual Exam) Round of the national quiz contest. Dr. Merlyn S. Mendioro was also among the judges of the quiz competition together with Dr. Ajay Kohli, Dr. Azucena L. Carpena, Dr. Christian Joseph R. Cumagun and Dr. Renato S.A. Vega.]

Following the Synapsis Round is a seminar by Dr. B. P. Mallikarjuna Swamy of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on harnessing rice science to develop rice varieties for better human nutrition.

Adding to the challenge of the previous installments of NIGQC is this year’s Genetic Drift Round wherein only five highly competitive teams with the highest garnered points were selected to compete from the Dogma Round. The five universities that qualified for the final round were University of Santo Tomas, Ateneo de Zamboanga University, University of the Philippines Baguio, Ateneo de Manila University and University of the Philippines Manila.

Ateneo de Manila University bested the four qualifiers and copped the championship title, marking the university’s second win since 2013, followed by University of the Philippines Manila and University of the Philippines Baguio as the 1st and 2nd runner up, respectively. Ateneo de Manila University’s Francis Mart Angelo R. Legitimas was also awarded the highest individual top scorer of the Synapsis Round.

Ateneo de Manila University NIGQC 2016 Team

Schools that competed in NIGQC 2016 include Ateneo de Zamboanga University (ADZU), Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), De La Salle Lipa (DLSL), Far Eastern University (FEU), Polytechnic University of the Philippines Manila (PUP Manila), Southern Luzon State University (SLSU), St. Scholastica’s College Manila (SSC Manila), University of the Philippines Baguio (UP Baguio), University of the Philippines Manila (UP Manila), University of the Philippines Mindanao (UP Mindanao), University of the Philippines Visayas (UP Visayas – Miag-ao), University of San Agustin (USA) and University of Santo Tomas (UST).#

The Badjaos: navigating on uncertain waters

By Jae Joseph Russell B. Rodriguez

In the mid-1960s, an American anthropologist named Harry Nimmo, lived among the Sama Dilaut or Badjaos of Tawi-Tawi. Then unislamized, they were still boat-dwellers and thrived on various methods of fishing. Nimmo studied the underlying social factors that led to their gradual shift to dwelling in houses on stilts. In his ethnographic book, he lamented on the loss of the boat-dwelling culture, the loss of one unique worldview, and ultimately a loss for humankind. Today the Badjaos have embraced Islam and the boat-dwelling culture is long gone in Tawi-Tawi. And as with any culture, change is still happening.

The Badjaos are an indigenous people (IP) which together with other ethnolinguistic groups constitute about 15% of the Philippine population. They have resisted centuries of colonial power, and thus have preserved their original way of life, their social structures, beliefs, livelihood, and art forms. Colonial regimes have left, but within the modern and independent Philippine state they are facing new threats to their existence. The “Indigenous Peoples Rights Act” (IPRA) since October 29, 1997 has mandated the recognition and protection of the rights of IPs, yet stories of displacement, violence, exclusion to political decisions, loss of ancestral domains, environmental destruction, and lack of access to basic social services continue to reverberate. 

Displaced, illiterate and reduced to begging 
For centuries in the Sulu archipelago, the Badjaos lived along the margins of society, often considered as inferior to land people. As with other nomadic cultures, they had no permanent settlement and would rather leave with their boats rather than fight when driven away by land dwellers. Today, in search for better sources of livelihood and driven from wartorn regions of Mindanao, they have scattered all over the archipelago and are commonly sighted even in Manila. Countless Badjao families continue to live impoverished lives in urban streets as they also gradually lose their culture and identity, often regarded
as illiterate and beggars by their Filipino brothers.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Meet the 2016 CAS Outstanding Student

by Rochelle B. Sarmiento (Polylinker)

When the midnight clock strikes at one, two days before an exam, he would sit on a black plastic chair beside the glass wall of a fastfood chain where students of various doses of sleep would flock, sometimes with other friends, other times alone. 

He would often be geared with a handful of photocopied readings and a thick book borrowed from the university library. Then some moments later, he would walk towards the counter and order one thing: a plain iced coffee. And occasionally, a familiar face would call him by his nickname, and he would smile wide. He might be proud of his almost perfect teeth. 

Gracing the smile
PJ, known to some of his friends and professors as the man who is fond of moderately infusing himself with caffeine, was recently conferred as the 2016 College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Outstanding Student with that same proud smile. This time, however, he was summoned by his full name, Paul Jhon P. Diezon, up on the stage of the CAS Auditorium, with this mother Janette who was equally, or even more than proud, but never arrogant, of her son. PJ received his award on the 18th of November, during the 44th CAS Foundation Anniversary Celebration Convocation and Awarding Ceremonies.
PJ Diezon smiles while holding his plaque of recognition; his proud mom is on his right side
Photo by Leann Suiton
Becoming a GeneSoc member
A BS Biology major in Cell and Molecular Biology student, PJ joined The UPLB Genetics Society in 2013 where he was elected as the editor-in-chief of GENEWS, GeneSoc’s official publication, for AY 2014-2015. He shared that his experiences as a GeneSoc member helped him improve not only his social skills, but his work ethics as well.

He also mentioned that GeneSoc was one of the reasons that he decided to run for the College of Arts and Sciences Student Council (CAS SC) under the slate of Samahan ng Kabataan Para Sa Bayan (SAKBAYAN). GeneSoc was among the 25 formations which established SAKBAYAN on July 1, 1996 as an alliance against the pressing issues on commercialization of education and campus repression. To date, SAKBAYAN remains as the widest alliance of student organizations, fraternities, and sororities throughout the University of the Philippines System, with 61 member-organizations and an affiliate alliance.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Redefining Gene-by-Environment Interaction

by Rochelle Sarmiento 

Almost always in every Genetics-related lecture I have so far tried to comprehend, and, seemingly, fortunate to have understood, my professors would emphasize that the very traits being expressed by any organism are a product of the interplay of various genetic and environmental factors. In several instances, they would tell— one hand holding the microphone, a leg stancing forward, and eyes looking towards the sea of fascinated and uninterested students alike— that as an individual ages, the environment he is predisposed to would hugely play a role on what makes him basically him.

Such notion is a widely accepted and acknowledged pillar of the concepts in Genetics. And when conceptually applied to matters of prime and social relevance, it would also pose an equally worth noting idea: that our perspectives on certain issues in the society may be influenced by the surroundings we find ourselves in and the people we have the opportunity to interact with.

The Program

Take as an example the conduct of the K4Health Community Youth Training Program. True to the meaning of K4, Kabataang Kabalikat ng Komunidad para sa Kalusugan, the primary aim of the said activity is to spark active participation among the youth towards sustainable improvement of the health of the people.

Having made its pilot and second implementations at the Municipality of Nampicuan in Nueva Ecija last June 7 to 9 and August 27 to 28, respectively, the program has been able to produce 27 volunteer youth leaders (VYLs) who are trained to be on the forefront of raising awareness on the importance of folic acid supplementation and newborn screening in their community.

Barangay Service Point Ofiicers (BSPO), GeneSoc facilitators, and youth volunteers of Nampicuan assemble for a photo opportunity after the special portion of the training program intended for BSPOs (Photo: GeneSoc)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Pride in Full Bloom

by Paul Jhon Diezon (Phagemids)

For the sixth time, Los Baños waved its rainbow flag in celebration of pride. Spearheaded by UPLB Babaylan, an organization established in 2009 that forefronts gender equality, the event was in full color as participants from different sectors gathered in a march themed “Pride March Natin ‘to.” 
Setting the Context of a Continuous Struggle

Believing that the struggle of the LGBT is not far from the struggles of the Filipino masses, the march’s main campaign is the passing of the Anti-Discrimination Bill. This bill aims to end all forms of discrimination for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) community in the country, after House Bill 5687 – its latest version failed to pass in the 16th Congress. It also seeks to prohibit discriminatory practices on the basis of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, specifically in hiring, firing and demotions; rejection or expulsion from any educational or training institution; giving harsher penalties, punishments, and requirements; refusal and revocation of honors, achievements and licenses; prevention of use of public facilities; mandatory psychological tests; and harassment or refused protection by law enforcers.

The bill also aims to provide law enforcers a series of gender awareness training, which will help them address certain hate crimes. The country has had around 200 documented cases since the 90’s, while several others remain unreported. One of such crimes is the murder of Jennifer Laude in October 2014. Until today, justice has yet to be served. 

Many other Filipinos, mostly unknown to mainstream media, have suffered the same fate as Laude despite the fact that the country has been named as one of the most gay-friendly nations in the world, and the most LGBT-friendly in Asia in a study conducted by the Pew Research Center.

The long road for the passing of this bill could be traced back in the ‘90s where it marks the first demonstration of attendance by an organized sector of the country’s LGBT community in the participation of a lesbian group called Lesbian Collective, joining the International Women’s Day march of 1992. Various groups including the UP Babaylan in 1992, were established. In 1999, Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network, otherwise known as LAGABLAB was formed and proposed the Anti-Discriminations Bill (ADB) of 2000. Six years later, another House Bill was filed in the lower house, but only reached the second reading.

Going Deep into the Genome

Aside from the debates regarding discrimination and attempts to break the stereotype, huge efforts on explaining sexual orientation has been coming in the field of science. However, generating a more reliable data on frequencies has been hindered by the fact that homosexuals tend to have, on average, five times fewer children than heterosexual males. According to Nature, the biology of sexual orientation has been one of the most vexing — and politically charged — questions in human genetics. And surprisingly, one study recognized the possible link between homosexuality and genetic tags that are affected by the environment.

In one study, DNA samples were gathered from 37 pairs of identical twins in which only one twin was gay, and 10 pairs in which both were gay. By scanning the twins’ epigenomes, the researchers found five epigenetic marks that were deemed common among the gay men than in their identical straight brothers. An algorithm was also developed based on the five marks which could possibly predict the sexual orientation of men in the study 67% of the time.

A number of twin studies and family trees also provide strong evidence that sexual orientation is at least partly genetic. According to another study, when one identical twin is gay, there is about a 20% chance that the other will be as well. But since this incidence isn’t observed in all subjects, it is believed that environmental factors play a huge role, too. The controversial locus, Xq28 was also a favorite subject in linkage studies where results have shown that polymorphisms in this location coincide with greater concordance rates than that of the Mendelian segregation. But despite the continuous efforts to find the link of genetics and homosexuality, some scientists still refuse to believe that there exists a gene for homosexuality.

Living in Full Color

Genetically-based or not, diversity in sexuality should never be a reason for someone to be discriminated and oppressed by the society. It should never be a reason why someone would be rejected in the workplace, deprived of education and healthcare or denied of the right to live. We should not wait for another Jennifer Laude before we realize that we need to pass a law that protects the rights of our LGBTQ.

But our plight doesn’t end on the LGBTQ community alone. Discrimination still thrives in various sectors of the society and it is our duty to truly address these issues—via education. After all, LGBTQ rights and all other rights are still human rights and no one is entitled to deprive anyone of their right to live in full bloom, in waves of different colors.#

(Sources: Rappler, Inquirer & Nature)

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Genetics Week 2016: From DNA to Olympic Gold

by Joana Cruz (Cyclosome)

With the theme “Sports Genetics: Demystifying the Strength of the DNAthlete," The UPLB Genetics Society (GeneSoc) will feature Sports Genetics on its 33rd year to divulge the connection of genetics and individual athleticism. It aims to explain that athleticism is more than just a product of environment and mental discipline but also of the interaction and expression of our genes.

According to scientists, there are about 200 genes that are linked to our physical performance and that their expression also depend on the presence of other genes. This is observable in the ACTN3 gene, the "speed and power gene," which has the R and X alleles. The R allele triggers the expression of the speed gene while its absence inhibits its expression. Moreover, heightened athleticism is not solely attributed to genome organization; it can also be influenced by gene mutations which according to scientists occur alongside with evolution.
Sports genetics evolved and diversified through time and its concept emphasizes that we can all be athletically-inclined; that we can be like the runners, swimmers and athletes we idolize; that we can be one of those who will take home an Olympic gold.