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Omics: Unraveling Mindanao's DNA

July 15, 2019 - Monday 3:07 PM by Kenneth Paul Senarillos

Article Banner Image FOCUS. PGC-MSF Laboratory Technician Christian Labrador examines the DNA of rabies virus using Gel electrophoresis at the College of Science and Mathematics (CSM) Molecular Biology laboratory inside the University of the Philippines Mindanao (UPMin) campus in Mintal, Davao City. KENNETH PAUL SENARILLOS

DAVAO CITY — What are “omics” and why are they important not just in the field of research but in the future of Mindanao?

The newly coined word  refers to a field of study in biology ending in "-omics," such as genomics, proteomics, or metabolomics. These collective technologies are used to explore the roles, relationships, and actions of the various types of molecules that make up the cells of an organism.

Scientific research in Mindanao took a big leap last February as the Philippine Genome Center (PGC), a research center of the University of the Philippines (UP) System based in Diliman, Quezon City, established its first satellite facility in the island region.

Currently, the Philippine Genome Center Mindanao Satellite Facility (PGC-MSF) is temporarily located inside the College of Science and Mathematics (CSM) building at the University of the Philippines Mindanao (UPMin) campus in Mintal, Davao City.

PIONEERS. The PGC-MSF staff during their team building at the White House in Maa, Davao City. PGC-MSF

The PGC-MSF aims to utilize omics technology for Mindanao’s scientific development. According to the center, omics is an emerging field of scientific technology that involves the collective study of molecules found in humans, plants, and animals.

In an interview with the Mirror, PGC-MSF Program Director Dr. Lyre Murao shared the significance of studying these molecules.

“Every living organism is composed of what we call molecules. All of these vital things that are happening in life are being done by molecules,” she said.

“They’re the ones doing everything in the body. They’re the ones running the organism making sure that it’s growing; making sure that it’s healthy; making sure that it’s producing what it needs to produce,” she added.

The establishment of the facility will fast-track scientific research initiatives in Mindanao, according to Dr. Murao.

“In the past, we usually studied these molecules one at a time. It took a lot of years for us to understand a certain process because of that,” she said.

“Here comes this revolution called omics. In Bisaya, according to Wilson (referring to PGC-MSF university researcher Wilson Aala Jr.), ‘tanan’ (all). Tanan means: in one look, you can already assess all the molecules that are working in the living organism,” she added.

Once completed, the omics facility opens up various research horizons for budding and senior researchers in Mindanao, especially in the field of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) studies.

DIRECTOR. PGC-MSF Program Director Dr. Lyre Murao at the facility's office inside the College of Science and Mathematics (CSM) building in the University of the Philippines Mindanao (UPMin) campus in Mintal, Davao City. KENNETH PAUL SENARILLOS

Unlocking Mindanao's potential

In Science, molecules compose the DNA — the “biological blueprint” of an organism.

This blueprint contains the traits of an organism referred to as genes, and it is this collection of genes called the “genome” – some 25,000 to 30,000 genes in humans – that ultimately commands the biological processes needed to keep an organism alive.

Some parts of the genome tells “what hair color will be expressed, while others may determine one’s propensity for disease, among other things,” according to PGC-MSF.

Understanding an organism’s genome through their molecular structure could be the key to unlocking and improving Mindanao’s potential in medicinal and agricultural research.

“Omics can be used to develop diagnostic platforms. You can already use a certain profile of molecules to determine whether a person has a certain disease, Cancer for example. Malalaman natin kung (We will know if) a person is prone to a certain type of cancer if he has this profile of molecules in his body,” Dr. Murao said.

In agriculture, “we have already a lot of varieties of crops. At a certain point, we can’t already assure whether a certain crop is really of that variety. Omics can be used as markers of an identity. It is an identification marker of a certain variety. So, if you can verify that these certain plant has these markers, then we’re sure that it’s really of that variety, especially the good varieties — the ones who are exportable or the ones who produce good quality products,” she added.

With its completion underway, the PGC-MSF aims to equip local researchers with new scientific processes and tools to nurture their quest for knowledge in behalf of the Mindanaoan people.

“Mindanao is one of the richest islands in the Philippines, not only in terms of human diversity but also in biodiversity and energy resources,” Dr. Murao said.

“Omics open up a lot of opportunities for seasoned and amateur researchers to contribute to society by making new discoveries, products, and technologies from untapped resources,” she added.

Since its establishment in February 2019, the PGC-MSF has implemented different omics research trainings and capacity building activities in collaboration with the Mindanao Genomics Consortium (MGC).

LECTURE.  PGC-MSF Project Director Dr. Lyre Murao conducts a lecture on DNA Extraction to the participants of the Molecular Biology Camp at the College of Science and Mathematics (CSM) Building in the University of the Philippines Mindanao (UPMin) campus in Mintal, Davao City. PGC-MSF

The MGC is one of the pioneer agenda of the PGC-MSF to consolidate different State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), private and public sectors, agencies, and industries to help invigorate local and international multi-disciplinary collaborative research.

Through this stakeholder collaboration, PGC-MSF hopes to become relevant in both social and scientific disciplines.

“Omics is a tool that cuts across any discipline that involves the study of life forms,” Dr. Murao said.

“The genetic diversity of Mindanaoans can help paint a better picture of the history and culture of this island,” she added. 

The PGC-MSF was established through a seed funding worth P40 million of state-of-the-art equipment from the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) and also a grant worth P80 million from the UP System for a new research, extension, and development building which will permanently house the facility inside UPMin.

FUTURE SITE. The perspective of the future Research, Extension, and Development Building in the University of the Philippines Mindanao (UPMin) in Mintal, Davao City which will house the PGC-MSF permanently. PGC-MSF