The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) held a conference on April 14, 2023, to present the DOST Genomics programs. The event, with the theme “From Labs to Lives: Impact of DOST-led Genomics Program in PH, Pananaliksik para sa Kalusugan, Kayamanan at katagalan,” was held at the Philippine Genome Center in UP Diliman.
The conference was attended by key figures in the field, including DOST Usec, Leah Buendia, PCAARRD Director Reynaldo V. Ebora, PCHRD Director Jaime C. Montoya, DOH Epidemiology Bureau, Dr. Alethea De Guzman, PGC Exec. Dir. Cynthia Palmes-Saloma, DA Biotech Dir. Claro Mengala, DOST ITDI Dir. Annabelle V. Briones, and Director of the National Science Foundation, Dr. Sally O’Connor. In addition, various genomics project leaders and researchers also attended the conference
During the conference, PGC Exec. Dir. Cynthia Palmes-Saloma delivered the opening remarks. She highlighted the importance of local scientists and researchers in addressing the country’s challenges in health, food security, and the environment. “Through this gathering, it is our hope that more Filipinos will welcome and be aware that our very own locally-based scientists and researchers can be active contributors as well as also provide solutions,” she said.
The DOST Genomics program is a national program that aims to harness genomics research for the benefit of Filipinos. It focuses on three major areas: agriculture and fisheries, health, and the environment. The program aims to develop innovative technologies, tools, and approaches that will contribute to the country’s sustainable development.
DOST Secretary Dr. Renato Solidum Jr. also spoke at the conference, emphasizing the significant impact of the DOST’s Genomics Program. He discussed how the research outputs translated into products that have impacted the lives of stakeholders.
Sec. Solidum explained that genomics is defined by the World Health Organization as the study of the genetic sequence information of organisms that attempts to understand the structure and function of these sequences. He added that through genomics, diseases can be predicted, diagnosed, and treated in humans or animals, and it can also help achieve food security by improving crop and livestock productivity. The DOST has been supporting genomics projects related to health and agriculture since the late 1990s and expanded its support in 2011 with the establishment of the Philippine Genome Center, serving as the premier core facility for genomics and bioinformatics in the country.
Sec Solidum shared the various genomics research that have been conducted in the Philippines. He highlighted the significant contribution of genomics to healthcare, agriculture, aquatic, natural resources sectors, and forensic investigations.
Sec. Solidum highlighted the significant contributions of genomics research to the healthcare industry, particularly in diagnosing and managing diseases using a multi-omics approach. He gave numerous examples of advancements in this field, such as the creation of transcriptome profiles for breast cancer and identifying genetic markers for X-linked dystonia parkinsonism. Additionally, the distribution of rapid diagnostic kits for dengue and COVID-19 has been a significant breakthrough. Ongoing research aims to identify genetic variations and molecular features linked to hypoglycemic responses in patients with diabetes, leptospirosis, and sepsis, which could have a positive impact on patient care.
The field of genomics has made remarkable strides in supporting forensic investigations in the Philippines. The development of a comprehensive DNA marker database for Filipinos has proven to be instrumental in identifying perpetrators of crime and facilitating other DNA profiling applications. Furthermore, several ongoing research projects are dedicated to enhancing the utility of forensic DNA applications, kickstarting the Filipino genome project, and leveraging genomics to combat child sexual abuse.
The NICER (Niche Centers in the Regions for R&D): Sea Cucumber R&D Center has made significant developments in utilizing genomics to advance marine resource management. Their research has led to the development of genetic markers that assess the diversity of deep fish populations, providing policymakers and fisheries managers with essential information for the conservation and sustainable use of these important marine resources. Meanwhile, the NICER seaweed R&D Center is also making significant contributions to the marine industry through genomics research. By utilizing seaweed DNA, they are working to improve the profitability and production of seaweed farming.
Aquaculture is another area where genomics research has shown significant potential. With the support of PCARRD, researchers have made progress in controlling the white spot syndrome virus in tiger shrimp, optimizing the sex ratio, and increasing milkfish production while lowering costs. In addition, they have worked to delineate mangrove crab populations, which can help to conserve this important species. By integrating genomics with image analysis and geographic information system technology, innovative solutions such as the “Crabifier” mobile application have been developed to identify species of juvenile mangrove crabs.
The Philippine Carabao Center has made significant progress in using genomics to enhance livestock breeding programs. By incorporating DNA markers into their selection, technology, and screening protocols, the center can detect genetic defects in livestock, improve productivity, and eliminate genetic abnormalities. In addition to this, genomics is also being used to develop diagnostic tools, such as test kits for swine diseases like the African swine fever virus. To further advance this initiative, the BRIDGES (Brisk Response through In-Location Diagnostics and Genome Sequencing) program, supported by Assets Corporation, is establishing a mobile laboratory unit for precise disease diagnosis in swine and poultry, ensuring that farmers have access to the latest and most effective disease management solutions.
The coconut genomics program is a vital initiative that utilizes genomic-assisted selection and molecular breeding to enhance productivity of existing coconut varieties. In addition, the full genome sequencing of mango and the development of molecular markers for high-yielding and disease-resistant cacao varieties are expected to significantly increase production and improve farmers’ income.
Furthermore, the NICER Center on Tamarind has identified the genetic relation of the Aglibut sweet to tamarind varieties from Thailand. This discovery could pave the way for better seed development and ultimately improve the production of Tamarind, a crucial agricultural crop in the Philippines.
Sec. Solidum stressed the importance of investing in research and development for the future of the Philippines. He highlighted the success of the DOST Genomics Program and the Philippine Genome Center in driving innovation, economic growth, and improving the quality of life of people. He also emphasized how the DOST Genomics Program has led to significant advancements in various fields, creating new products, business opportunities, and employment opportunities.
“With these milestones of successful DOST investments, we are confident that we can continue transforming science. Scientific ideas from the laboratory into tangible innovation and development that benefit the lives of our Filipinos,” he said.
Usec. Leah Buendia, in her closing remarks, thanked the researchers who brought science to the people, especially during the pandemic. She also challenged the Philippine Genome Centers to sustain human resources from the Department of Budget and Management to maximize the translation of research and development initiatives. She also encourages both the public and private sectors to support and invest in programs such as the DOST Genomics Program, which holds great promise in enhancing the quality of life of Filipinos.
“We envision a future where innovation, digitalization and diversity will drive progress in all sectors and in your assistance we can achieve this value,” Usec Buendia said.