Friday, May 18, 2012

Philippine young scientists also went for the Moore at the international science & engineering fair

Team Philippines 2012.  Front row (l-r):  Julian Paolo Biyo, Elson Ian Nyl Galang, Carla Beatriz Lazara, Paul Caesar Flores, & Hazel Anne Hernandez.  Holding the Philippine flag (l-r): Lanz Gabriel Jabla, Bryce Abraham Anos, & Ven Gabriel Tan.

Around 1,500 high school students from around the world including our own Team Philippines 2012 of eight young science researchers departed for the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) held recently (May 13-18) in Pittsburgh, PA all dreaming of the Moore.

The Gordon E. Moore award of $75,000 from Intel and the Society for Science & the Public (SSP) "recognizes the Best of the Best among outstanding students from around the world who participate in the Intel ISEF."  The next two Bests get the Intel Foundation Young Scientists Award of $50,000 each.  The candidates for awards can be an individual researcher or a team of at most three members.

Before they could qualify for the three Best of the Bests, the young scientists vie for four grand awards and the Best of Category in 17 science research categories. The Philippine young scientists were in four:  environmental sciences (EV), environmental management (EM), engineering-materials & bioengineering (EN), and medicine & health sciences (ME).

Directory Listing of Team Philippines 2012 in the Intel ISEF Program.

It may not be the first grand or Best of Category award, but the fourth grand prize in environmental sciences that Hazel Anne Hernandez, Julian Paolo Biyo and Paul Caesar Flores of the Philippine Science High School-West Visayas Campus won is recognition enough for the difficult work they put into 'regenerating coral fragments on bamboo artificial reefs.'   The Consortium for Ocean Leadership also lauded them for this outstanding work with a certificate of honorable mention.

Prior to the Intel ISEF, these young marine scientists won the Outstanding Young Scientists Award, the top prize in the SEAMEO (South East Asian Ministers of Education Organization) 8th Regional Congress held on March 6-9, 2012.

The three had the Banate Bay in the southeastern part of Panay Island as their marine laboratory. But first, they had to go through rigorous SCUBA diving training before they could dive for and recover broken Acrophora and Stylophora coral fragments from the dense coral reef in the Hibotkan Rock Marine Reserve area.  They had to transport these by boat four kilometers away to the Anilao waters where they deployed concrete and bamboo artificial reefs (CARs and BARs).  This is an area where "no coral assemblages are found."  They've actually started building a reef there, hopefully  to become a new fishing ground esp. for local fishermen who helped them deploy the artificial reefs.

 YouTube video showing Hazel, Julian and Paul receiving their award.

Hazel, Julian and Paul had to dive every month from February to December 2011 to check if the coral 'transplants' could survive and grow on the artificial reefs, measuring their growths as well as the water quality obtaining there.  

"Acropora and Stylophora coral fragments can be transplanted on both concrete and bamboo artificial reef," they reported, "[although] Acropora showed low survival and growth."  They're enthusiastic about the use of bamboo as a material for an artificial reef construction because it is abundant and easily obtainable in the area.

Their 'marine laboratory' has been declared a marine protected area, a no-fishing ground by the local government of Anilao town.  In their dive before flying to Intel ISEF, they already noted an increasing diversity of marine life there.

The other members of Team Philippines 2012 may not have come home with grand awards but they too had outstanding research studies to show off at the Intel ISEF. 

Elson with his 8-m sample eco-fabric and his display poster at the ISEF. (Photo from Team Philippines).

Elson Nyl Galang of PSHS-Southern Mindanao campus (Davao City) brought with him eight meters of what he calls 'eco-fabric from fragrant screw pine (Pandanus amaryllifolius) leaf fibers.'   In his study, he was looking for a natural fiber to replace polyester to blend with cotton in producing a Philippine Tropical Fabric (PTF). 

He had the full support of the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) where he did his project while he was in summer internship there.  His product, a blended cotton-pandan fabric (80-20%), was found "to have the fabric weight ideal for blouses and pants, good breaking strength, exhibits shrinkage, has low pilling resistance, good colorfastness and non-staining ability."

Elson's pandan fibers have now joined four natural fibers that are being used to produce PTFs: Musa textile (abaca), Musa paradisiaca (banana),  Ananas comosus (pina), and silk. 

Ven Gabriel Tan from Marinduque National High School was intrigued by the proliferation of common herbal plants in a mine brownfield, an area that has been abandoned because the soil is heavily polluted by heavy metals, and in this case, copper ions, Cu+2 . He thought of studying the 'potentials of [these] common herbal plants in sequestering copper in former mine brownfields.'

Ven in front of his project display in Pittsburgh.  (Photo from Team Philippines).

He chose to study four plant species, namely, Amaranthus spinosus (local urai, Eng.pigweed), Desmodium heterophyllum (Desmodium), Ruellia tuberose (meadow weed) and Stachytarpheta jamaicensis (local kandikandilaan), planting them on three soil set-ups--plain garden soil, garden soil amended with high level of copper in solution, and actual soil from the former mine site.  

"All the plant species can hyperaccumulate Cu+2 within the range of 2 to 100 ppm," Ven reported. "They can be used in phytoremediating these ions in mine fields."  During the experimentation period, he noted that the plants did not wilt nor the leaves turned yellow; indications that they could tolerate the high concentration of Cu+2 in the soil.

Ven said their local government has taken interest in his research.  He hopes that his study could help local officials craft policy guidelines for environmental management there.

Bryce, Carla and Lanz with their display poster. (Photo from Team Philippines).

 A marine creature, the sea hare ('donsol' in Sarangani) or Dolabella auricularia was the subject of scientific interest to Carla Beatriz Lazara, Lanz Gabriel Jabla and Bryce Abraham Anos from the PSHS-Southern Mindanao campus.  They were particularly intrigued by the purple ink that it secretes to ward off predators.  They thought this secretion "may contain substances with pharmacological applications."

Thus, their 'bioprospecting for active compounds of Dolabella auricularia (sea hare) ink secretion' had them perform tests to characterize this substance.  The genotoxicity assay told them that the ink enhances mitosis in the Allium cepa (onions), which was evident in the proliferation of long roots during the experimentation period.  They found out however that the ink has cytotoxic effect on Artermia salina (brine shrimp).  They were able to confirm the presence of secondary metabolites in the sea hare ink, which include flavonoids, leocoanthocyanins, saponins and tannins.

Carla, Lanz and Bryce wrote that "isolation, identification and characterization of the bioactive compounds ... may be explored to determine components with therapeutic benefits," and that further cytotoxicity studies "may provide better use of the sea hare ink in the development of pharmaceutical products."   

On judging day, our participants wore national costumes. (Photo from Team Philippines).

All except Ven Gabriel will be university freshmen when school opens.  Ven will be in his senior high school year, and with his exposure in the Intel ISEF 2012, he may yet come out with a winning project to bring to the Intel ISEF 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona in May next year.

Videos featuring Team Philippines 2012:

Asia Pacific "Shout Out" featuring Team Philippines showing off the country poster they crafted for the opening ceremony.

The 1,500 participants in the Intel ISEF are given opportunity to meet new friends through a pin exchange as shown in this video.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ay, ay, malunggay!

Malunggay flowers. (Photo by the author.)

We've tried the marunggay/malunggay ice cream, a culinary venture in the Ilocos (where else could it be?). Some weekends would see us buy from the organic veggie market stalls a dozen malunggay pandesal and malunggay bihon noodles for breakfast pancit.

Our NGO,Timpuyog Zambales, once looked at the feasibility of a malunggay powder project but a kilo of dry product would require considerable tonnage of green inputs (and therefore a big plantation) to make a profitable venture. 

Malunggay powder has been used in the supplemental feeding program for children in famine stricken African countries.  In our Pinoy households, this could also be added to kiddie meals, may be mixed with the cereals, porridge, and the lugaw or congee, especially for those who absolutely hate to see vegetables on their plates. 

These days, we drink a cup of malunggay 'tea' with a dash of lime juice before bedtime. We produce the healthy 'tea' using bunches of green fronds from our backyard trees hanged inside the house for air-drying. 

The marunggay (Moringa oleifera, formally) of childhood memory has grown from being the popular trees in our yard where neighbors and relatives go for the green leaves and the seasonal fruits for the dinengdeng (an Ylocano ratatouille like pinakbet) of lunch or dinner.  A relative's Igorot househelp named Berta came very often for this lowly vegetable, and thinking about it now, our moringa trees provided very rich nourishment for our growing brood of cousins. Those days, backyard vegetables were free for the asking. Today, a bundle of five malunggay fruits would cost Php20! 

From those same trees did our grandmother pick the dark green leaves for the chicken tinola she dutifully cooked for our lactating mother as my four sisters came into the world one after the other in the 1950's, and our youngest in ’60.  Pinoy baby boomers like us did not know it then when we were suckling our natural food; it was the marunggay broth that helped sustain the milk supply from our breastfeeding mothers. 

Studies dating back to the American occupation of the Philippine islands discoursed on the medical and nutritional value of the Moringa oleifera. Today, breastfeeding is being greatly encouraged by various child-care advocates, hence moringa is also getting back into the baby food picture.   

In folk medicine, tradition has it that the roots be chewed and applied to the bite of a snake to prevent the poison from spreading. A decoction of the roots is also considered a cure for scurvy; it is likewise used to calm down delirious patients.  Everyone is familiar with the leaves being chewed and applied to wounds to hasten blood clotting.   Asian-American high school students from California won a prize at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair a few years ago for their study using moringa extracts as blood coagulant.  

Some literature in the 1920's called the malunggay seed oil ben oil, reported to be good for salads and for other culinary uses.  At that time when oil lamps were still used for lighting, the ben oil was considered comparable to the best of Florence oils in the market.  Because it’s tasteless, colorless and odorless, it was considered a good material for use in the process of extracting perfumes.  Ben oil however did not grow to be as popular and commercial as the ylang-ylang oil.

It’s the green movement, the search for alternatives to OPEC oil (a matter of economics actually), that’s resurrecting the ben oil in other usable energy forms.

There’s a reason why we put the moringa flowers in the illustration. For the past several years, our scientist friend has been involved in hush-hush project, which he could not help tell - producing a high end product, an organic Viagra, as he put it, from some compound in the plant that’s most abundant in the flowers and the still limp and thin young fruits. It seems they have already successfully tested the product on experimental mice.

Our friend says the moringa’s ‘viagratic’ element affects both male and female but that could only be felt probably if there is a big intake of malunggay leaves and flowers, although in our hometown we don’t really eat the flowers.  We can gather the flowers at blooming time and convert these into some envigorating flower power potion, a salad with tomatoes and onions. Eventually, we we may yet see malunggay fruits disappear in the market when this organic viagra becomes a menfolk remedy, straight from the tree, for some embarrassing dysfunction. 

Source:  Brown, W.H. (1920).
Because we see it almost everywhere, we think that the malunggay is native to the Philippines. Linguists would tell us though that the name gives away its Sanskrit origin - marungi.  Experts say that, with a few exceptions, plants with Sanskrit origin were introduced from India or Malaysia, or probably from Java and Sumatra during the Sri-Vishaya and Madjapahit periods.  The Philippines belonged to those empires; what was left included floral souvenirs like malunggay, lasona, patola, champaka and lagundi, which were already native Philippine and thriving all over the archipelago when Magellan set foot on Sebu soil.

The Sanskrit veggie name morphed into different forms wherever the plant was grown. Thus, Moringa oleifera Lam. (horse radish tree to the English) is known as arunggai in Pangasinan; balunggai, Cuyo Islands; kalamunggai in Misamis and kalunggai in Camarines; kamalunggai, Mindoro and kamalunggi, Pampanga; malugai in Culion Island; malunggai in Tarlac, Bulacan, Zambales, Bataan, Rizal, Laguna, Manila, Batangas, Tayabas, Mindoro, Capiz, and Zamboanga; marunggai in Ilocos Norte and Sur, Abra; and maronggai in Zambales.

Thus, your name for moringa gives away your promdi-ness! [Promdi, from the, province.] 


Brown, W.H. (1920).  Wild Food Plants of the Philippines. Bulletin No. 21. Bureau of Forestry, Dept. of Agriculture and Natural
     Resources.  Manila: Bureau of Printing.

__________. (1921).  Wild Food Plants of the Philippines. 2(22):104-105 and 3(22):188-189.  Bureau of Forestry, Dept. of 
     Agriculture and Natural Resources.  Manila: Bureay of Printing.  

Census Office of the Philippine Islands. (1921). Census of the Philippine Islands.  Agriculture, Medicinal Plants, Forest Lands
     and Proper Diet.  Manila:  Bureau of Printing.

Merrill, E. D. (1926).  An Enumeration of Flowering Plants. Vol. 4.  Bureau of Science.  Manila: Bureau of Printing.