Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Pioneers in Biology in the Philippines



Our pioneer biologists may not have cracked the gene, but definitely they have in their own quiet and humble ways brought honors to their race and profession. Most important of all, they have improved the lives of millions of not only Filipinos but other people around the world through their genius, efforts, dedication – and selflessness.

Dr Abe V Rotor
 Living with Nature School on Blog [avrotor.blogspot.com]
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class Monday to Friday

Dr Domingo Tapiador (left), UN-FAO biologist, father of Spirulina, a one-celled protein, with veteran journalist Dell H Grecia, and the author. 

This article was written soon after the completion of the Human Genome Project (HGP) was announced by then US President Bill Clinton. Which in part, I said

"While the world celebrates the greatest discovery of the new millennium - the cracking of the genetic code - let us turn our thoughts to our own biologists. May their pioneering spirit in the development of biology in the Philippines be brought closer to our youth for them to look into the great potentials of biology as a career."

Updating this article will come a long way, and may not suffice, much less complete. Nonetheless it is a humble effort to give our due respects and honor for the achievements of great Filipinos.

More so today that we are facing a crisis in food, among other problems worldwide and locally, mainly the result of runaway population, environmental degradation exacerbated by climate change, and rising affluence of living. Governance is changing its face and conduct as shown in the current Arab Spring, worldwide low employment, global warming, increasing incidents of natural and man-made disasters.

To remember these great men and women of our own race - were they alive today - we would not hesitate to ask how they can possibly help? We ask the same to the living, and we pose it as a challenge to our youth today.

Our situation in the Philippines is a lament. It is irony because we have the resources - physical and human, yet we lag behind in food production on one hand, and the preservation of the environment, on the long term. Maybe the next thing we ask is when will we be able to keep up with our neighbors, and with the world.

Originally these are the scientists mentioned in the original article posted in this Blog in 2009.

Eduardo Quisumbing is author of Medicinal Plants of the Philippines, still the most popular reference in this field. It is dubbed the “bible of medicinal plants.” It is used in schools, barangay and at home.


Leon Ma. Guerrero (1853-1935), the father of botany in the Philippines and one of the first Filipino pharmacists, formulated medicine and drugs from 174 plants in place of synthetic drugs which were not available then. When President Emilio Aguinaldo ran out of ammunition, he formulated an explosive derived from plants. It proved to be a good substitute of gunpowder. It was later named Guerrero Powder. One of the ingredients the author discovered is the hard seed coat of cashew (Canarium luzonicum).

Maria Y Orosa (1893- 1945) is well known in the field of food preservation. She introduced innovations in salting, marinating, and pickling, and the like, and made home economics and food technology household terms. So simple are her techniques that they can be adopted at the grassroots. They are also friendly to health and the environment.

Hilarion Lara (1994-1987), an epidemiologist, advocated environmental sanitation in the control of cholera, typhoid, measles, dysentery and diphtheria, and was awarded the title of National Scientist. His fame , but his fame gained international acclaim.

Manuel Ma. Guerrero (1877-1919) succeeded in controlling infantile beri-beri together with Dr. Juan Salcedo (1904-1988), then chairman of the National Science Development Board, who formulated a special vitamin against beri-beri for all ages. Their works contributed to saving millions of children all over the world down especially at the village level from this scourge.

Alfredo Santos (1900-1979), one of the founders of the National Academy of Science, and national scientist, discovered paheantharine from plants as treatment of high blood pressure.

Candido M. Africa (1895-1945) succeeded in determining the causes of heart failure and how it can be prevented.

Arturo B. Rotor (1908-1993), is the first Filipino allergist. He served as Executive Secretary of President Manuel L. Quezon, and President Sergio Osmena. Dr. Rotor discovered a rare disease of the renal system which was named Rotor Syndrome, now recognized in all medical schools and hospitals here and abroad. Dr. Rotor also wrote a column, “Confidentially Yours, Doctor,” written in simple and plain English for people to understand the doctor’s lingo. A number of orchids he discovered were named after him.

Antonio Ejercito spearheaded malaria control, while Sixto A. Francisco (1890-1959) fought tuberculosis with a method he developed with the use of BCG vaccine.

Anastacia Giron Tupas (1890-1972) upgraded the nursing profession. She is our own Florence Nightingale, the founder of the nursing profession.

Fe del Mundo (1907- ) institutionalized the treatment of children. Among her inventions are an incubator for babies, and a devise in relieving jaundice.


Nemesio Mendiola (1890-1983) is the country’s counterpart of the American “plant wizzard,” Luther Burbank. He was responsible in breeding high yielding rice, corn, sugar cane, and a host of horticultural crops, including fancy plants. Have you seen kamote (sweet potato) varieties with yellow, violet and blue tubers? He bred the spineless kenaf from the wild thorny native variety and became the source of fiber for commercial jute sacks.

Deogracias Villadolid was professor in zoology and served as critic of the author’s masteral thesis in freshwater ecology. Dr. Villadolid, a marine and fresh water biologist, is best remembered for introducing tilapia (Tilapia mozambica and T. nilotica) into the Philippines in the fifties. The fish became adapted to local conditions and is now the most popular fish, surpassing bangus, our national fish.

Julian A. Banzon (1908-1988) developed alternative fuel from coconut and sugarcane. With millions of cars running on alcogas in other countries, we have yet to tap Dr. Banzon’s formula for our local cars.

Felix D. Maramba Sr (1898- 1990?) harnessed biogas from animal waste. His project, Maya Farms in Rizal, is the most popular model in the country for small and medium size biogas generator. Like LPG, the gas collected and processed from piggery waste is used for the kitchen and in generating electricity. It became a model of its kind in the world.

Angel S. Arguelles (1888-1988?) developed fertilizers and pesticides to increase plant yield. These alternative farm inputs can save the country of precious dollars that is otherwise spent on imported farm chemicals, which by the way, are deleterious to health and the environment. His formulations set the foundation of organic farming.

Gregorio Velasquez is the father of phycology, the study of algae, which include the seaweeds. Today the culture of certain seaweeds, like Eucheuma, Gracillaria and Caulerpa, constitutes a multi-million industry. Seaweeds are used as food and raw materials in medicine and industries. Micro-algae like Spirulina and Chlorella are among today’s growing health food.

Gerardo Ocfemia is the father of plant pathology in the Philippines. He is best known for discovering the cause of cadang-cadang, a pandemic viral disease of coconut. He was responsible in the identification and control of many other plant diseases in the Philippines.

Dioscoro L. Umali (1922-1992) was dean of then UP College of Agriculture, before he assumed one of the highest posts occupied by a Filipino in the UN as regional head of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for Asia and Pacific. His works in plant breeding, education and research won him the National Scientist award.

Salvador M. Africa, a chemist, made glass from sugarcane bagasse.
Anacleto del Rosario discovered natural mineral water, better than the manufactured mineral water we use today.

Of course, we recognize the greatest Filipino who ever lived, the hero of our race, Jose P. Rizal. Rizal was a biologist, agriculturist and wildlife conservationist, even while he was in exile in Dapitan. Among his discoveries is a winged tree lizard, which was later named after him, Draco rizali.

Here is a list from the Internet our National Scientists affiliated with UPLB.

Eduardo Quisumbing published the first ever book on medicinal plants in the Philippines and authored more than 129 scientific articles published here and abroad. While director of the National Museum, Quisumbing undertook restoration of the Herbarium which was completely destroyed during World War II.

Dioscoro Umali specialized in rice, corn, abaca and mussaenda breeding. His research paved the way for the launching of programs of rainfed and upland agriculture, social forestry, environment conservation and rural poverty. He was appointed dean of the College of Agriculture in 1959. National Scientist.

Francisco Fronda helped develop Asia's poultry industry, devoting over six decades of his life to teaching, research and extension. In recognition of his pioneering contributions, he was cited as the "Father of Poultry Science in the Philippines" by the Philippine Association of Animal Science in 1980 and "Father of Thai Poultry Industry" by the Crown Princess of Thailand in 1982.

• Julian Banzon was among the first to do research on coconut as a renewable source of fuel and chemicals. He also devised novel processes, noteworthy among these is the extraction of residual coconut oil by chemical, rather than by physical processes.

Clare Baltazar discovered eight types and one subgenus of Hymenoptera. She also published the first authoritative book on Philippine insects which laid the groundwork for future biological control in the country.

Benito Vergara is a rice scientist and author of "Farmer's Primer on Growing Rice" which has been translated in over 40 languages. He also developed IRRI’s Rice World Museum during his term as director for Administration.

Bienvenido Juliano authored or co-authored over 370 scientific papers on rice chemistry and quality and edited and contributed to several chapters of the 2nd edition of the American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC) monograph "Rice Chemistry and Technology" in 1985, wrote "Rice Chemistry and Quality" for PhilRice in 2003, "Rice in Human Nutrition" for FAO in 1993, and compiled IRRI quality data on world rice. He is the only Filipino on Thomson/ISI's list of highly cited researchers.

Carmen Velasquez discovered thirty-two new species and one new genus of digenetic trematodes from Philippine food fishes, two from birds and five from mammals; nine life cycles of trematodes of the family Transversotrematidae, Echinostromatidae, Notocotylidae (2), Plagiorchidae, Heterophyidae (2), Microphallidae and Philophtalmidae. She also discovered two new species of nematodes from Philippine fishes and a new species of Capillaria from the intestine of man, as well as a new species of parasitic copepod in Glossogobius giurus (Goby). Her works are archived at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dolores Ramirez is known for her work on the genetic systems controlling the makapuno endosperm of coconut, the genetics of chemical resistance factors against Cercospora kex leaf spot and the cytogenetics of the hybrids of rice with related wild species.

Jose Velasco did research on various areas of plant physiology such as mineral nutrition, photoperiodism, chemical weed control and plant growth in general, which served as the basis of crop production management practices and has set the direction for future research. He is also known for his research on cadang-cadang disease of coconuts.

Pedro Escuro helped develop, isolate and release nine Seed Board rice varieties: Milpal 4, HBD-2, Azmil 26 and C-22 (upland) and C-18, C4-63, C4-137, C-168 and C-12 (lowland).

Gregorio Velasquez, known as the "father of Philippine phycology", made the first intensive study of the local Myxophyceae or the bluegreen algae and devoted at least 30 years of productive work in the study of Philippine algae.

Ricardo Lantican's research on southern leaf blight saved the American corn industry in 1969. He also helped develop a new plant architecture in mungbean combined with resistance to Cercospora leaf spot, which increased yield levels in Asian farming systems and initiated varietal improvement of legumes in the Philippines in the 1960s, producing more than 20 varieties of mungbean (CES and Pag-asa series), soybean and peanut, some of which are commercially planted and used as parental types in international breeding programs.

Asuncion Raymundo conducted studies on microbial genetics and implemented numerous research projects or studies funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, UNIDO and the Australian Centre for International Agriculture. She has published over a hundred technical articles in refereed journals and proceedings, both local and international. She is currently dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Teodulo Topacio, Jr. did research on leptospiral disease of domesticated animals, which may provide the foundation for institutional control measures for these ailments. His studies on the transmission of the disease from pigs to humans have enabled veterinarians to produce antibiotic therapy that also reduced spontaneous abortion caused by the disease among pregnant pigs.

The author had the opportunity working or knowing the following scientists who belong to the "old school." It is indeed a rare and distinct privelege.


  • Fernando de Peralta – Botany
  • Fortunato T. Basilio – Animal Science
  • Juan P. Torres - Agriculture
  • Santiago R. Cruz – Agriculture
  • Jose Capinpin - Agriculture
  • Juan Aquino – Soil Science
  • Domingo B. Paguirigan - Agriculture
  • Fortunato T. Basilio – Animal Science
  • Romeo Rejesus – Entomology
  • Ricardo P. Sevilla – Veterinary Medicine
  • Eulalio P. Baltazar - Agronomy
  • Romeo Alicbusan – Mycology
  • Francisco Fronda – Animal Science
  • Martin S. Celino – Agronomy
  • Francisco B. Claridad – Genetics
  • Alfredo D. Dean – Entomology
  • Vito F. Del Fierro, Jr – Animal Science
  • Leopoldo T. Karganilla - Entomology
  • Emiliano Roldan – Plant Pathology
  • Rufino Gapuz – Animal Science
  • Emil Javier – Genetics
  • Clare Baltazar - Entomology
  • Ramon Valmayor – Agriculture
  • Gavino Trono - Agriculture and Phycology
  • Juanito Reyes - Agronomy
  • Fortunato Basilio - Veterinary Science
  • Vicente Villegas- Animal nutrition
The author also expresses his admiration to the following Filipino scientists in the academe, research institutions and in the field. Together with other scientists, they belong to the “contemporary school of biology.” Among them are Reynaldo A. Tabbada (botany), Paciente Cordero (marine biology), Romualdo M. del Rosario (Botany), Ruben Umaly (Genetics), Crisanto EscaƱo (agriculture), Carmen Kanapi (Genetics), Mamerta R. Rocero (ethnobotany), Alice Claustro (Botany), Anselmo S. Cabigan (Biology), Irineo Dogma (Microbiology) and Lydia Joson (microbiology), Delia Ontengco (microbiologist) Lilian J Sison (chemistry), Peter Ng (medical doctor and biologist), Carlos Garcia (chemistry). The author likewise expresses recognition to scientists in the other fields of natural science, particularly in chemistry and physics.

These ten major biological research areas pose a challenge to the youth of today who may take interest in becoming scientists mainly in the field of biology.

1. Biotechnology
2. Marine biology
3. Climatology
4. Human longevity
5. Effects of pollution
6. Endangered ecosystems and species
7. Exobiology and Space biology
8. Natural food and medicine
9. Pandemic human diseases
10. Gene therapy

Now that the genetic code has been broken, we are embarking into new fields of science and technology heretofore unknown to man - and into the mystery of life itself, a subject that has long defied man’s knowledge.

The mapping of the 46 chromosomes of the human species and the 50,000 or so genes that they hold may have taken us a leap forward into knowing the key to life. But even if we shall have finally identified the specific role of each gene in relation to health, behavior and intrinsic qualities, we would still be in quandary whether this discovery will make life any better, happier and well-lived.

As we look back, our pioneer biologists may not have cracked the gene, but definitely they have in their own quiet and humble ways brought honors to their race and profession. Most important of all, they have improved the lives of millions of not only Filipinos but other people around the world through their genius, efforts, dedication – and selflessness.

May this article serve as a simple expression of our respect and gratitude to these and many other great Filipinos who equally deserve recognition.

x x x

NOTE: We'll be happy to receive more names of famous Filipino biologists and include thm in this continuing list. AVRotor

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