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Vol. XXVI, 1st Quarter
January–March 2008

President Arroyo honors two Filipino world class scientists

Filipino world class scientists
Dr. Lourdes Cruz and Dr. Baldomero Olivera, world class scientists.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo conferred the Order of National Scientist to Dr. Lourdes J. Cruz and the Philippine Legion of Honor Rank of Grand Officer to Dr. Baldomero M. Olivera in simple rites in Malacañang January 14 this year.

Both scientists had teamed up in a number of research works on conotoxins from Conus sp. marine snails (cone shells) that are collected in the tropical waters of the Philippines.

Dr. Cruz, an Academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology, is currently doing research on neuroactive peptides and other marine toxins at the University of the Philippines—Marine Science Institute in Diliman.

Aside from her notable achievements in science and technology, Dr. Cruz also does development work for poor rural communities. She has conceptualized and established the Rural Livelihood Incubator or Rural LINC in 2001 with the help of volunteers and seed fund from a private donor.

One of Rural LINC’s aims is to generate employment and establish sustainable livelihood as long-term solutions to poverty and socio-political instability in rural areas especially among Aytas, upland farmers, and fisherfolk.

Dr. Cruz’s scientific achievements include the elucidation of biochemical and molecular structure and properties, and mechanisms of action of conotoxins from the Philippine marine snails.  Her expertise in marine toxicology has reaped acclaim in the international scientific community.
In 1993, she received the Sven Brohult Award from the International Science Foundation in Sweden. She also received the Outstanding ASEAN Scientist and Technologist Award in 2001.

Meanwhile, Dr. Baldomero M. Olivera, a NAST corresponding member, is a distinguished professor at the University of Utah. His research group that also included Dr. Cruz made breakthrough discovery of a biomolecules family they collectively called conotoxins. These biomolecules are widely used in neuroscience research today in the study of ion channels and neuro-muscular synapses.

The research group’s discovery became a cover story of the prominent journal Science (Conus markings) in 1990 and the EMBO Journal (European Molecular Biology Association) in the same year.
The Harvard Foundation declared Dr. Olivera as Scientist of the Year in 2007, the first Filipino to receive the distinction.

Dr. Olivera grew up in the Philippines, where cone snails are widely sold in seafood markets.  Occasionally, the snails sting local fishermen and some unfortunately die from the powerful venom.

His boyhood fascination with cone snails led him to the discovery of a painkiller many times more potent than commercially available, which could provide relief for thousands who suffer from severe pain, epilepsy, or neurodegenerative disorders.

His primary interest is in molecular mechanisms underlying nervous system function. His work has led to the development of a drug, now in clinical trials, that appears to be more effective than morphine against chronic pain.

Present during the ceremonies were Department of Science and Technology Secretary Estrella F. Alabastro, NAST President Emil Q. Javier, academicians, government officials, and friends and relatives of Drs. Cruz and Olivera.

Five living National Scientists also attended the event such as Gelia T. Castillo, Dolores A. Ramirez, Bienvenido O. Juliano, Ricardo M. Lantican, and Benito S. Vergara.

There have been 31 National Scientists since the title was first conferred in 1978, but only 10 are currently living.