We definitely want more people to be involved in genomics and bioinformatics,” says Dr. Maria Anita Bautista, head of the Philippine Genome Center’s (PGC) Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Program, “because there are many scientists from state universities and colleges who want to improve their research. These scientists thought that the PGC was only for UP, but it’s not just for UP. The Department of Science and Technology shelled out funds for it so that the PGC could serve the Filipino community.”
The message that the national university’s equipment and expertise have always been there for Filipino scientists to use has been one that Bautista and her colleagues have been trying to put out. This sentiment is borne out by the PGC’s goal of training the country’s future experts in genomics and bioinformatics—a task that goes far beyond the borders of UP.
Getting the word out on what the PGC has to offer is no easy task. Since 2012, however, under current Executive Director and former DNA Sequencing Core Facility (DSCF) chief Cynthia P. Saloma, the PGC has literally been getting their show on the road. Through a series of roadshows, PGC staff are hitting the regions and their associated SUCs to share both the PGC’s high-tech tools and the knowledge to use them.
Bautista herself did the rounds when she briefly became DSCF director in 2016. “During that time,” she says, “our task was to inform the Philippine scientific community that we already have these state-of-the-art tools that we can use. So if they want to get involved in genomics research, they don’t have to outsource. They can use the facility for their sequencing needs.”
The PGC is mandated to provide access to its advanced sequencing and bioinformatics services to strengthen the country’s academic and research infrastructure. Its DNA sequencing services include capillary sequencing (a technique originally used by the Human Genome Project in the 1990s) and medium- and high-throughput Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), along with nucleic acid extraction, quantification, and library preparation. On the bioinformatics end, the PGC also offers data processing and analytics services for NGS data, and high-computing services for those who want to do the analyses themselves.
“I asked the staff to help me spread the word that there was a sequencing facility that they could use,” she says. “And if cost is an issue, our offer was, you could be trained. You could process your own samples and won’t be charged as high because you won’t be paying for manpower. So the goal really was to train scientists, students, and researchers. We just want to follow the PGC mandate.”
What exactly happens when the PGC goes on tour? “This is how we do it,” Bautista explains. “We have a series of lectures. First, we invite people. If the workshop is on agrigenomics, we ask at least three people working on three different commodities to do lectures. So for example one would speak on crops, one on insects, and one on shrimp or forestry. And then in the afternoon, we introduce the platforms that we have at the PGC.
“The first question usually is: can we use them? And we say, of course you can use them! And the next one is: may bayad po ba (is there a fee)? Yes, there is a fee, but it’s not high. Because our mandate is to let them know how to use the facility. We also have a lecturer on bioinformatics, so it’s typically a one-day workshop.”
Bautista adds that the good thing about the workshop is that it doesn’t end there. “The participants come back. They write to us and ask for in-house training. So it’s a promotional campaign to let them know what we can do for them.” In order to tailor the workshop to certain SUCs, the roster of speakers is chosen to fit the region. “We first look at what commodities they focus on and then we invite people.”
For example, when they go to Benguet up north, “We go to Central Luzon State University. PhilRice is there, and so is the Philippine Carabao Center. So we invite people to talk on the genomics of crops that grow in the north, like rice and corn. We will get people to talk on the genomics of the water buffalo or cows. That’s how we conduct the workshop.”
After successful stops recently in Iloilo and Benguet, as well as the addition of several first-of-their kind sequencers to the PGC’s Shared Genomics Core Facility, the PGC’s roadshow will pick up steam in 2018. “We would like to encourage other researchers to link up with us,” Bautista says. “We can also help them craft research proposals specifically for their areas, in collaboration with the PGC, but with the SUCs as implementing agencies. Because that’s the purpose—that we extend our services beyond UP.”