1st Biodiversity and Chemical Biology of Marine and Terrestrial Life in the Philippine Region Conference kicks off in Bohol, Philippines

The BCBMTP conference kicked off on October 16 with opening remarks from Governor Edgar Chatto of Bohol and DENR undersecretary Isabelo Montejo.  After welcoming the participants to Bohol, everyone was treated to a medley of songs from the Loboc Children’s Choir.  On October 17, the morning plenary lectures began with talks from Dr. Baltgazar Aguda of the Philippine Genome Center and Dr. Hiroyuki Ogata of Kyoto University.  Dr. Aguda’s talk focused on ecosystem stability, biodiversity, and genomics.  He highlighted the importance of food webs and keystone species and discussed how an ecological community can have overlapping genomes as a result of predation.  Dr. Ogata presented his work with the Tara Oceans Expedition and the discovery of giant viruses, particularly the mimivirus which lives inside an amoeba host.   In the afternoon, Dr. Jeanmaire Molina of Long Island University, Dr. Brent Copp of University of Auckland, and Dr. Wesley Wu of University of California – San Francisco gave an outlook of their past and current research thrusts.  Dr. Molina took the audience on a 20-year tour of her botanical research, from the reconstruction of the phylogenetic tree for the plant genus Leea to the whole-genome sequencing of one of the most unique plants in the world, the Rafflesia.  Dr. Copp’s lecture pointed out the dire need for new classes of antibiotics to fight microbial drug resistance.  He presented some promising compounds, like indole polyamines, which have the potential to address this need.  Dr. Wu presented his recent findings in the search for candidate anti-malarial compounds from terrestrial and marine sources in the Philippines.  The evening of October 17 was capped off with an interactive US-AID STRIDE workshop hosted by David Hall.  Representatives from the Philippine pharmaceutical industry and American universities discussed how academe and industry can work together to push forward scientific research, drug discovery and development in the Philippines.

1st Row seated (from left): Dr. Baltazar Aguda, Dr. Hiroyuki Ogata, Dr. Moana Simpson, Dr. Dawn Field, Dr. Baldomero Olivera, Dr. Gisela P. Concecpcion, Dr. Lilibeth Salvador – Reyes, Dr. Angel Yanagihara, Dr. Maurizio Memo, Dr. Margo Haygood, Dr. Brent Copp, Dr. Wesley Wu, Dr. Helena Sefavi – Hemami, Dr. Jeanmarie Molina, Dr. Porfirio Alino 2nd Row (from left): Ryan Field, Charmaine Mendoza, Alecks Abordo, Malem Flores, Clairecynth Yu, Zypher Regencia, Myra Ruth Picart, Thatcher Pancho, Albebson Lim, Jeremiah Batucan, Jannelle Cassanova, Jessa Mae Laude, Marylette Roa, Dr. Christine Hernandez, Dr. Taiki Umezawa, Pearl Kathleen Co-Tumlos, Porferio Bangcaya, Ronniel Pedales, Dr. Sonia Jacinto, Dr. Sandra Yap, Dr. Aimee Lyn Dupo, Dr. Mafel Ysrael, Dr. Joyce Ibana, Shalice Susana, Vivienne Santiago, Dr. Nonilion Aspe, Miguel Azcuna, Joeriggo Reyes, Sherry-Lyn Sayco, Lovette Cunanan, Dr. Lourdes Cardenas, Richard Dumilag, Dr. Anita Bautista, Jeremy Faiwas, Raisheine Joyce Dalmacio, Dr. Arvin Diesmos, Dr. Maria Celia Malay, Dawn Fajardo, Noel Saguil 3rd Row (from left): Juan Miguel Recto, Kevin Cruzado, Abe Ernest Johann Isagan, Victor Chua, Keziah Camille Terrado, Isagani Padolina, Apollo Lizado, Dr. Maria Victoria Bernido, Dr. Christopher Bernido, Jerome Sadudaquil, Val Salares, Prince Nino Nayga, Lorenzo Halasan, Dr. Yuri Kantor, Dr. Terrence Gosliner, Dr. Alexander Fedosov, Kevin Bossie Davis, Brian Torres 4th Row (from left): Noel Lacerna II, Dr. Allan Patrick Macabeo, Dr. Gresebio Alejandro, Mark Jeremiah Cleofas, Jose Miguel Robes, Dr. Ian Kendrich Fontanilla, Lorenz Ragasa, Sheldon Rey Boco, Carlo Limbo, Dr. Hendrik Leusch, Jeric P. Da-Anoy, Andrew James Solidum, Dan Jethro Masacupan, Francis Tablizo

The second day of plenary lectures on October 18 was initiated by Dr. Margo Haygood, Dr. Baldomero Olivera, and Dr. Helena Safavi-Hemami , all from the University of Utah.  Dr. Haygood talked about the processes involved in collecting marine samples in the Philippines.  She also highlighted the high biodiversity of Philippine marine mollusks, which includes shipworms and their unusual bacteria symbionts that can inhabit their gills.  Dr. Olivera captivated the audience with videos showing the biodiversity of cone snails and the various ways by which they hunt their prey.  Interestingly, peptides from these cone snails have become drug leads to treat pain and other neurological disorders.  Dr. Safavi-Hemami’s discovery of cone snail venom insulins presented yet another clever strategy by which these predators can hunt fish, which is by forcing them to become hyperglycemic then quickly shift to a hypoglycemic state.  The following talks were by Dr. Moana Simpson from Griffith University and Dr. Terrence Gosliner from the California Academy of Sciences.  Dr. Simpson showcased ‘Compounds Australia’, a biobanking facility that stores over 400,000 compounds from chemists and makes these compounds available to assay biologists.  In essence, it acts as a matchmaker, linking chemists and biologists to facilitate meaningful discoveries in drug development.  Dr. Gosliner showed several new species of marine invertebrates found during his team’s collection trips in the Verde Island Passage, which is now known as the center of center marine biodiversity.   The evening lectures were covered by Dr. Yuri Kantor and Dr. Alexander Fedosov of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Dr. Angel Yanagihara from the University of Hawaii.  Dr. Kantor and Dr. Fedosov tackled the complexities of marine mollusk taxonomy, particularly for the Turridae and Mitridae families, respectively.  Dr. Yanagihara discussed the pathophysiology of Indo-Pacific box jellyfish envenomations and the need to educate people about pre-clinical care for box jellyfish stings since contradictory first aid recommendations persist in South East Asian coastal rural communities. 

The third day of plenary lectures started with a fascinating talk by Dr. Dawn Field from the University of Oxford.   Dr. Field wrote the famous book ‘The Biocode’ with co-author Neil Davis.  She made the audience aware of the increasing inter-relationship between biodiversity and genomics and elaborated on her Moorea Biocode Project.  This project involves obtaining DNA barcodes for all organisms on the isolated island of Moorea, Tahiti.  After this, Dr. Hendrik Luesch from the University of Florida presented his research on marine cyanobacteria as starting points for anticancer drug development.  He highlighted dolastatin 10 and largazole as highly selective cytotoxic compounds that can target and kill human colon cancer cells.  In the afternoon, Dr. Maurizio Memo from the University of Brescia talked about new concepts in big pharmaceutical companies and medicine.  He also mentioned the use of zebrafish in his research, which can serve as a good model for cardiovascular, central nervous system, neurodegenerative, and skin diseases.  He ended his talk with advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), which are a by-product of cooking prepared food like beef, chicken, pasta, etc.  He wanted to emphasize that consuming food with high AGE content can lead to diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and kidney disorders.  Dr. Taiki Umezawa from Hokkaido University gave a lecture on antifouling compounds originally isolated from red algae and sea slugs.  His work involved the total synthesis of omaezallene and dolastatin 16.  Both compounds showed effective antifouling doses towards barnacle larvae that were much lower than the observed lethal doses.   In the evening, Dr. Arvin Diesmos of the National Museum of the Philippines, Dr. Juan Carlos Gonzales of University of the Philippines Los Banos, and Dr. Nonillon Aspe of the University of the Philippines Diliman gave lectures that focused on Philippine terrestrial biodiversity.  Dr. Diesmos showed that limestone karst formations are unique microhabitats that are home to several new species of frogs and geckos.  An interesting discovery was that the Platymantis frogs in these karst formations were not related to one another.  Instead, each Platymantis species evolved either from a ground-dwelling or tree-dwelling frog through convergent evolution.  Dr. Gonzales talked about setting the standard criteria for species limits of birds.  He pointed out the difficulties in Philippine bird taxonomy and gave an extensive overview of Philippine Hornbill taxonomy.  Dr. Aspe presented his findings on the biodiversity and phylogeny of Philippine earthworms, using both classical and molecular taxonomical techniques.  

In addition to the inspiring plenary lectures, poster presentations were carried out by younger researchers and faculty from October 18-19.  The posters covered a myriad of topics like terrestrial and marine biology, chemical ecology, drug discovery, and molecular taxonomy.  The participants of the conference were allowed to ask the presenters questions and give feedback on their posters.  On the final day of the conference, the participants were treated to a DNA sequencing workshop by Dr. Maria Anita Bautista of the Philippine Genome Center and a Mollusk workshop by Dr. Yuri Kantor.    The closing ceremonies ended with the plenary speakers giving feedback about the success of the BCBMTP conference.  Much appreciation was given to Dr. Gisela Concepcion, Dr. Lilibeth Salvador-Reyes, and the staff of their Marine Natural Products Laboratory for organizing and implementing the first BCBMTP conference. 

This article was written by Miguel Azcuna of the Marine Science Institute. For comments, email him at [email protected]