University University Feature

Algae BIG Hub: On strengthening PH algae industry

As part of the various research efforts of De La Salle University (DLSU), research centers are established that touch on a diverse set of disciplines. One of these centers, the Algae BioInnovation Global Hub, better known as Algae BIG Hub, aims to work hand in hand with the algae industry by collaborating with researchers, international partners, and government agencies.


Where it all began

Back in September 2016, the University had received a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Science, Technology, Research and Innovation for Development (STRIDE) Program. Initially, the funding was used to conduct workshops and industry consultations. However, it was during this time that Algae BIG Hub first came 
into fruition.

Dr. Alvin Culaba, University Fellow and Principal Founder of Algae BIG Hub, shares that the idea was not necessarily to make a research center, but rather to create “a platform for bringing together the major stakeholders in the algae industry.”

At the time, Culaba narrates, DLSU was already working with partners who are involved in the industry, completing projects related to algae research for them. “We did an analysis of algal biomass material. We cultivated it here, and we shared the results to them. So it improved the processes and even the adoption of certain equipment,” he explains.

Currently, two of the equipment they have currently developed is undergoing patent applications, with the hope of deploying it for public and industrial usage in the future.

A group effort

However, DLSU is not alone. Aside from industry partners, the University has collaborated with other academic institutions globally to continue their research initiatives. Among them, collaborators such as the University of Arizona—which is also one of DLSU’s main academic partners—National Taiwan University, Osaka University, and the University of Glasgow have provided invaluable inputs to Algae BIG Hub.

Because it is a collaboration of different institutions, choosing whom to partner with might be a difficult task. Culaba has one word to explain how he does it: network. As a scientist well-connected in the field, he has leveraged on this to find those who are also interested in studying algae. “I [have] come to know the industry. I speak in many events and they [have] come to know what I’m doing. So it is a product of your network,” 
he elaborates.

From a small core group of people who shared the same ideas, he was able to broaden the project by finding others with similar interests, such as those from University of the Philippines Los Baños, University of the Philippines Diliman, and Ateneo de Manila University. “There are people there who are experts in their certain areas, so you have to bring them together so that you can put together your plan,” he adds.

Nevertheless, Culaba warns against having a large group for the sake of having many people involved. With all the possible collaboration partners, his responsibility is to process all the people involved and ensure that those that participate would provide valuable inputs.

“It is my responsibility to ensure that we are all able to bring the right partners, the right collaborators, and the right people there so that [when] things happen, things will move and things will succeed,” 
he explains.

Learning together through hardship

Over the years, Culaba shares that he has encountered different forms of shortcomings and challenges. Indeed, he believes that the difficult task is not in starting an organization, but in sustaining it, stressing that it is important that people be passionate about the work.

“You have to be contagious to your people. If you bring passion there and commitment, you should be able to also, probably, influence other people’s passion and commitment, so they will be with you,” Culaba claims. Afterwards, the aim is to direct the passion that has been implanted into something useful, which Culaba considers as “a continuing challenge”.

Sometimes, the journey is just as fulfilling as the result. In Algae BIG Hub’s case, learning together as a team has resulted to unique experiences the classroom can never offer. To illustrate, just recently, Culaba brought a team of 22 people to a site in Bulacan, 18 of which were students. Their purpose was to collect and study Lablab, a type of algal matter that is eaten by milkfish and shrimps.

He narrates that the fields were muddy, and that the team had to deal with farmers and other people. Culaba describes it as an “environment that they are not so comfortable [with].” As they were about to collect the algae, it suddenly began to rain. Almost instantly, the Lablab vanished, dissolved by the downpour.

Culaba reiterates that education is about building people and it also includes sharing one’s talents with others. “If ever we have this technology, we will be able to eventually help the marginalized, [such as] the farmers, those who need our expertise,” he states. At the same time, the researchers affirm that building character in people involves making students realize that knowledge can come from unexpected places. “Farmers—they have a lot of things to share with you, and you will be amazed that they know technical things like how they control the pH [level of the soil],” 
he cites.

Warren Chua

By Warren Chua

Bea Francia

By Bea Francia

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