Biotech comes alive
Science is usually understood and appreciated better when traditional lectures are supplemented with innovative activities.
The Third National Biotechnology Conference for Teachers was held recently at the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority building in Quezon City.
It was organized by the Department of Agriculture’s Biotechnology Program Implementation Unit, the University of the Philippines Diliman National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (NIMBB) and the Filipino Teachers Recognizing the Importance of Biotechnology Education.
A total of 80 college and high-school teachers and 60 students attended the conference.
Cynthia T. Hedreyda, NIMBB director and conference chair, said innovative approaches to teaching and learning biotech were essential, hence the introduction of News Bites and the One-Act Play competition in the conference.
News Bites followed the format of a TV news program, with experts acting as reporters. NIMBB’s Reynaldo Garcia talked about Cuba, a developing country with some of the world’s most important biotech companies. Because the government had long prioritized biotech, Cuba was able to come up with the blockbuster Heberbiovac hepatitis B vaccine (said to be the world’s best) and the Heberprot-P (the world’s only treatment for diabetic foot ulcers).
NIMBB’s Neil Bascos reported on the online game Fold-It, a protein-folding activity that showed that human judgment and instinct could match, if not exceed, the ability of computer algorithms to predict the three-dimensional structures of proteins from their amino acid sequence.
Some players even published their game results in scholarly journals.
Hedreyda highlighted other good news: The Philippines was steadily gaining expertise to do genomics, especially in the field of personalized medicine, due to the decreasing costs and increasing power of gene sequencing.
Rosario Monsalud, head of the Philippine National Collection of Microorganisms, urged high-school students to use in their classes the institute’s microbial cultures.
For the One-Act Play competition, entries were written, directed and produced by students themselves. NIMBB’s Jay Lazaro and Vermando Aquino, and Belen Calingacion of the UP College of Arts and Letters were judges. Cash prizes and school pride were at stake.
The team from Mapulang Lupa National High School in Valenzuela City won best play (P30,000), best actor (Jerome Angelo Tepace, P3,000), best actress (Fervy Jumaday, P3,000), best production (P4,500) and best script (Roderick O. Alo, P5,000).
Written in Filipino, the play had students using song and dance to debate the pros and cons of biotechnology. It was considered the most scientifically accurate of all the entries.
The team from UP Rural High School in Los Baños, Laguna, won teacher’s choice (P5,000) and best play runner-up (P10,000). Based on the cartoon series “Dora the Explorer,” the play, in English, had Dora traveling from factory and hospital to fields and industry, describing the uses of various biotech products.
Students from Adventist University of the Philippines in Silang, Cavite, won best costume (P4,500) and best play runner-up (P10,000). The play, also in English, revolved around a farmer’s dilemma. “To plant GM [genetically modified] crops or not to plant GM … this is my question!” as he considered climate change, soil degradation, pest incidence and nutrient loss.
Audience volunteers also formed teams on the spot to act out a script on biotech. The team of Lyn Paraguison of Adamson University and Maria Mendoza, Christian Corbe and Jordan Abael of the University of Santo Tomas won first prize (P2,000), while students from Cavite State University and Las Piñas Science High School were runners-up (P500 per team).
Sponsors included Monsanto, Procter and Gamble, the Philippine Academy of Microbiology, Petron, Paddington Trading, Macare, Diamed, Asian Laboratories, Moor and Castle Corp., and Merck.
For more on biotechnology education, go to www. nimbb.upd.edu.ph.
E-mail the author at [email protected]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.