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Unraveling molecular biology with the DLSU Biology Department

Last September 10, the DLSU Biology Department held its online panel discussion titled Lost in Translation: Communicating Genomics and Proteomics‘ via Zoom. The event featured microbiologists from different universities who each presented their own studies on biotechnological advancements and current trends in molecular biology, which was followed by an open forum to address misconceptions and highlight the real-life applications of the field. 

The more the merrier?

Dr. Frederick C. Delfin, a researcher at the Natural Sciences Research Institute at the University of the Philippines Diliman, kicked off the panel by discussing population genetics and how our genetic ancestry determines genetic variation. 

He highlighted how populations in Africa have the most genetic variation, with only a fraction present in neighboring continents. This relates to the “Out of Africa” theory that sets Africa as the genesis of our species’ development before eventual migration to other continents. Delfin attributed serial founder events, migration, and bottleneck events as factors that decreased genetic diversity outside of Africa.

This concept serves as the backbone for genetic sequencing that microbiologists like Dr. Benedict A. Maralit, program director of the DNA sequence core facility at the Philippine Genome Center, perform to detect COVID-19 variants, especially those with local origins.

Maralit also posits that having adequate information about genomes can help identify potential risks imposed by viruses and how we can preempt them from adapting to our immune systems.

From the ground up 

“We need to help patients find new ways to recover,” prefaced Dr. Rafael Espiritu, a professor at the University’s Chemistry Department. Espiritu encouraged students to always go the extra mile when dealing with public health. He proceeded to discuss his latest research on regulated cell death and cancer where he provided an overview on treatment complications and drug-resistant factors.

In line with Delfin’s discussion on evolution, Espiritu mentioned that tracing the genetic sequence of a certain type of cancer to its origin will serve as the backbone in developing new technology to help those with the disease. 

To streamline genetic tracing, Espiritu introduced a promising approach called multi-omics that can potentially untangle the molecular mechanisms of carcinogenesis—the formation of cancer cells. 

Espiritu said that each -omics level provides a layer of information that collectively presents a better picture of a disease. Using this to his advantage, he and his team not only identified unique molecules found in cancer but were also able to trace the lineages back to their origin. 

“Using this is the goal of our work,” Espiritu remarked, but he laments that limitations in resources and expertise forced him to only work on certain levels of the approach. 

Biodiscovery

Meanwhile, Dr. Hilbert Magpantay, an associate professor from the University’s Chemistry department, focused on extracting bioactive compounds from sponges and examining the roles of protein using yeast as a model organism. 

Drawing on the results from two of his past studies, Magpantay inferred that proteomics and transcriptomics analysis,  the study of proteins and its entire set of mRNAs, can efficiently identify specific genes and quantify protein sequencing levels. 

The development of organisms compounds over time due to environmental stressors, some of which “are used as a defense mechanism, like in sponges” he shared. This allowed him to demonstrate the concept of evolution and genetic variation, one that he dwelled on by analyzing the expression of genomes during his research. 

Unsung heroes

During the open forum, the panelists shared insights on pressing science-related matters. Regarding publicizing scientific information, Magpantay stressed the importance of simplifying crucial information to counter misinformation. Delfin concurred with him, stating that scientific information must always “start with the people, end with the people, and continue beyond with them.”

When asked whether or not it was high time for molecular biology to be professionalized, it was unanimously agreed upon that professionalizing the field would be inappropriate. Delfin labels molecular biologists as the “jacks of all trades” due to their versatility outside their field of supposed expertise. 

The panelists also addressed the lack of government funding in the sciences with Maralit highlighting the importance of adequate equipment in making complete and accurate discoveries. Magpantay and Espiritu lamented how the lack of facilities, equipment, and mentors within the country complicates the task of making discoveries, especially when conducting research related to the coronavirus.

As Espiritu put it, “The priority must be on the facilities, rather than the professionals.” Nevertheless, these scientists continue to persevere and circumvent the aforementioned challenges in pursuit of knowledge and public well-being.

By Gabrielle Lema

By Tommy Vasquez

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