Experts stress the importance of DNA Science in understanding and preserving Philippine culture

How can forensic science and genetics help Filipinos better understand their rich history and multi-cultural heritage?

This question was at the center of the symposium It’s All Relative: Discovering the Filipino Identity through DNA Science held at the Asian Institute of Management on April 15.

Invited to speak at the event was Dr. Maria Corazon De Ungria, head of the DNA Analysis Laboratory of the Natural Sciences Research Institute (NSRI-DAL) of UP and director of the Program on Forensics and Ethnicity of the Philippine Genome Center.

She was joined by two other forensic science scholars: Fullbright fellow and researcher-in-residence at NSRI-DAL Sheila Estacio Dennis who was also the former assistant director of the Department of Forensic Biology at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner; and university research associate at NSRI-DAL Frederick Delfin who is a PhD candidate in human evolutionary genetics at the International Max Planck Research School in Germany.

Besides scientific findings, the team shared some applications of genetic research in health and business, and its implications to public policies on indigenous peoples. 

Understanding one’s cultural fabric and identity is key to national progress, said the organizer.


Speakers Dr. Corazon De Ungria, Sheila Estacio Dennis and Frederick Delfin (6th, 9th and 10th from left, respectively) with some of the attendees. Photo by Corazon De Ungria.

Dennis is also one of the guest artists featured in a photo exhibit at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum.

The exhibit, dubbed It’s All Relative, “is a realization that people are interconnected socially, culturally and historically.” 

In the collection, portraits of NSRI-DAL researchers taken by photographer Alison Domzalski were superimposed with the DNA sequences of the scientists obtained via next generation sequencing. They were mounted alongside pictures of some indigenous peoples.

The photographic collaboration, based on Dennis’ molecular approach to forensic science and ethnicity in recent months, will be brought to New York and Italy then back to the Philippines.