Filipinas in STEM: Filipina Scientists Win Gregorio Y. Zara Award for Basic and Applied Research

Image credit: Henry De Leon, S&T Media Service, DOST-STII via  ABS-CBN

Image credit: Henry De Leon, S&T Media Service, DOST-STII via ABS-CBN

Two Filipina scientists recently garnered awards for their pioneering work in previously under-explored fields of study.

Doctors Maribel Nonato and Rizalina de Leon were given this year's Gregorio Y. Zara Awards for Basic and Applied Research, respectively, for their study of plants native to the Philippines.

Nonato studied the phytochemistry and biological activities of pandan plants, while De Leon pursued methods to produce bioethanol using local varieties of fungi as alternative sources of ethanol additives in place of food crops such as corn.

Prior to Nonato's research, pandan was commonly known as a cooking ingredient, aside from being included in traditional herb tea "pito-pito." Her research led to the discovery of traits which were the basis for pandan’s medicinal use, and also inspired similar studies in countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.

Biological studies on pandan have found that it is a potential source of anti-microbials, anti-viral, diuretics, anti-tuberculars, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory agents, said a statement from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). 

De Leon's research lessen the threat presented by bioethanol production on the country's food security. 

Her team identified Fusarium moniliforme, which can be found locally, as a source of ethanol in place of corn and other food-based raw materials, DOST said.

The Gregorio Y. Zara Awards are given by the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology to local scientists who have made valuable contributions to their respective fields of study.

It is named after National Scientist Zara, who was known for his advances in aeronautics, and engineering. He is best known for inventing a two-way videophone in 1955, contributions to solar energy technology, and is credited for discovering the "Zara effect," or the physical law of electrical kinetic resistance, among others.

News story from ABS-CBN