Quezon City, Philippines
Quezon City, Philippines

The University of the Philippines is the national university of the Philippines. Founded in 1908 through Act No. 1870 of the First Philippine Legislature, known as the "University Act" by authority of the United States, the University currently provides the largest number of degree programs in the country. Senate Resolution No. 276 of the Senate of the Philippines recognizes the University as "the nation’s premier university".The University has produced a significant number of public figures and officials since its founding. Seven Philippine Presidents have attended courses in the University either as undergraduate or postgraduate students; 13 Chief Justices; 38 National Artists and 34 National Scientists are also affiliated with the University.U.P. has the most National Centers of Excellence and Development among higher education institutions in the country and one of only three schools in Asia that have received institutional recognition in the Ramon Magsaysay Awards.U.P. is partly subsidized by the Philippine government. Students of the university and its graduates are referred to as “ Iskolar ng Bayan” . This makes admission into the University extremely competitive. Most recently, in 2014, almost 88,000 applicants flocked to test centers to take the University of the Philippines College Admission Test for undergraduate admission. Around 13,100 of the 83,000 applicants in the 2013 exam were admitted for the following year, an acceptance rate of approximately 16% for the entire U.P. System at the same year. In the 2012 admission test, U.P. added essay questions that tested the writing literacy of its High School exam takers.The symbol of U.P. is the Oblation. This is a figure of a naked man, with arms outstretched and face pointed upwards. The Oblation is based on the second stanza of Jose Rizal's Mi Ultimo Adios.The year 2008 was proclaimed as the "U.P. Centennial Year" and the years 1998-2008 as the "University of the Philippines Decade." The U.P. System is ranked as the top university in the country by the QS World University Rankings. Wikipedia.


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News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.spie.org

Light can be used to fabricate, handle, power, and actuate microrobotics functionalities, such as the loading and unloading of microcargo, showing promise for drug delivery and biological-testing applications. Light is an important research tool. It enables us to see things at a range of scales, from the macroscopic to the microscopic (where our own cells, bacteria, and other micro-organisms proliferate). A less familiar property of light is the momentum that it carries. This feature enables focused light to trap, move, and position microscopic objects.1 This has had significant implications, particularly in biomedical science, by enabling researchers to use light to extend their ‘hands,’ and manipulate biological samples with great precision. Additionally, optical forces are non-invasive (because of their pico-Newton magnitude) and can operate through sealed and sterile biological chambers. In addition to exploiting momentum to trap and move objects, light can now be used to generate secondary effects, such as heat. Previously, local heating in a microfluidic environment was achieved by using metal surfaces and metallic nanoparticles. These methods have enabled valve action,2 flow control,3 and mixing.4 They can also operate as catalysts for chemical reactions,5 and have even been applied for cancer therapy.6 However, a limitation faced when using metal layers in microfluidic devices arises because they are usually fixed to a certain region. In contrast, the motion and position of nanoparticles are difficult to control. To solve this maneuverability problem, we have integrated metallic structures into a new type of light-driven microrobot. Recent improvements in the fields of optical manipulation and microfabrication can cater to increasingly sophisticated objects. We leveraged these developments to create new functional robotic tools for light-based microbiological experiments. We employed a custom-fabrication technique, known as two-photon polymerization, to achieve 3D microprinting. In this process, focused laser beams are used to solidify a liquid polymer resin, achieving printed feature sizes of down to a fraction of the writing wavelength. As with 3D printers, different designs can be fabricated to perfectly suit particular applications. The structures that we have designed and demonstrated include wave-guided optical waveguides7 (WOWs) and, more recently, hollow microrobots for material transport, as illustrated in Figure 1. Furthermore, light-initiated physical reactions enable new functionalities in these optical microrobots.8 Among the functionalities that we have incorporated, a syringe action enables the optical microrobots to load and unload a tiny cargo, making them capable of material transport.8 Figure 1. (a) An artist's rendition of a multitude of light-driven micro-robots working together to probe a cell. (b) A hollow microrobot, designed for material transport, interacting with an oil droplet. (c) Scanning electron microscope image of the hollow microrobot. A mask is fabricated on top of the structure to secure exposure of only certain regions by metal-vapor deposition. The photoresist that we use in the fabrication of these light robots is practically transparent to the trapping beam wavelength and thus generates very little heat. Metals are efficient energy-to-heat converters of light, so to enhance laser-induced heat generation in the polymerized light robots, we embedded a thin metallic layer inside each of them using vapor deposition. For this purpose, we deposited a titanium adhesion layer and a gold layer (of 1 and 5nm thickness, respectively) as a circular disk inside the body of each light robot. Once the microrobots are introduced into a cytometry cuvette, they are individually maneuverable using four counter-propagating beams that trap each of the spherical handles. Further, an extra beam is used for controlled heating of the internal metallic layer. Sufficient laser heating forms a microbubble around which strong convection currents are generated. The results of our experiments, shown in Figure 2, demonstrate that the convection currents can draw 2μm-diameter silica beads into the structure. By combining convection currents with optical manipulation, each microrobot is made capable of picking up cargo at different locations. The hydrodynamic effect that is used to move particles can be quite strong and, in contrast to optical trapping and manipulation, does not rely on the refractive-index contrast. Figure 2. A hollow microrobot uses the generated convection current from a shaped laser beam targeted on the metallic layer to pull in 2μm-diameter silica beads. A hollow microrobot uses the generated convection current from a shaped laser beam targeted on the metallic layer to pull in 2μm-diameter silica beads. 8 Microcargo can subsequently be ejected by moving the heating beam across the body of the microtool, as shown in Figure 3. Many interesting phenomena can be observed here, such as thermo-capillary bubble migration,9 a directional change of the thermal gradient,10 and reversal of Marangoni convection (due to the presence of many particles).11 A video presentation of our recent results, published in Nature, is available online.12 Figure 3. (a) A collection of 1μm-diameter polystyrene beads are loaded inside a microrobot because of convection currents and (b) ejected by moving the heating beam across the body of the microrobot. (a) A collection of 1μm-diameter polystyrene beads are loaded inside a microrobot because of convection currents and (b) ejected by moving the heating beam across the body of the microrobot. 8 In summary, we have developed optical microrobots with a variety of novel capabilities and features. Among these, the ability to optically control loading and unloading could have potential use in new drug-delivery approaches for single-cell experiments. Our light-driven microrobots can also be used to provide physical and chemical stimuli to biological samples. This control is not limited to a single robot and could potentially be extended to a large handful using advanced software (i.e., swarm robotics), thereby enabling microrobots to mutually coordinate to unveil new ways of interacting, probing, and acquiring information (e.g., for 3D microbiology). Ultimately, we forecast that light robotics will lead to completely new and disruptive schemes for real-time 3D interactions with the microscopic world.12, 13 In our future work we will be investigating a range of applications for light robotics, particularly those relating to nanobiophotonics.14 We acknowledge support from the Innovation Fund Denmark under the project Enhanced Spatial Light Control in Advanced Optical Fibres. Department of Photonics Engineering Technical University of Denmark Jesper Glückstad is currently a professor at DTU Fotonik. Previously, he was a guest professor of biophotonics at the Lund Institute of Technology (2006–2011). He established the Programmable Phase Optics group and labs15 in the late 1990s, received the Danish Optical Society Award in 2000, and was elected Scientist of the Year 2005 by Ib Henriksen's Foundation in Denmark. He is a Fellow of SPIE and OSA. Mark J. Villangca finished his MSc in physics at the University of the Philippines, where he worked on beam shaping using computer-generated holograms. He subsequently completed his PhD in photonics engineering at the Technical University of Denmark as a member of the Programmable Phase Optics group, working on light-driven microrobots. He also works with generalized phase contrast and digital holography for beam shaping. Darwin Z. Palima is an associate professor at DTU Fotonik. He achieved his PhD in physics from the University of the Philippines and then moved to Denmark to work as a postdoctoral student. He has co-authored a book on generalized phase contrast and actively publishes in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings. He currently teaches biophotonics and optical engineering while pursuing his research interests, including computer-generated holograms, generalized phase contrast, optical trapping and micromanipulation, microscopy, and biophotonics applications. OptoRobotix ApS Andrew R. Bañas earned his PhD from DTU Fotonik. His work with the Programmable Phase Optics group, including applying Fourier optics or electrodynamics to get the most out of experiments, has been featured in Optics Express and OPN. He has also designed and built hardware and software for beam shaping and optical-manipulation systems. He is currently pursuing tech-transfer activities, including the application of generalized phase contrast and cell sorting for studying disease. 5. C. Vázquez-Vázquez, B. Vaz, V. Giannini, M. Pérez-Lorenzo, R. A. Alvarez-Puebla, M. A. Correa-Duarte, Nanoreactors for simultaneous remote thermal activation and optical monitoring of chemical reactions, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 135, p. 13616-13619, 2013. doi:10.1021/ja4051873 6. N. S. Abadeer, C. J. Murphy, Recent progress in cancer thermal therapy using gold nanoparticles, J. Phys. Chem. C 120, p. 4691-4716, 2016. doi:10.1021/acs.jpcc.5b11232 9. D. W. Berry, N. R. Heckenberg, H. Rubinsztein-Dunlop, Effects associated with bubble formation in optical trapping, J. Mod. Opt. 47, p. 1575-1585, 2000. doi:10.1080/09500340008235124 12. http://tinyurl.com/zzq8th3 Rendition showing a small swarm of light-actuated microrobots interacting with a cell. The insets shows experimental results with light-actuated microrobots performing loading and unloading of cargo. Credit: Mark Jayson Villangca, DTU Fotonik. 13. D. Palima, J. Glückstad, Gearing up for optical microrobotics: micromanipulation and actuation of synthetic microstructures by optical forces, Laser Photon. Rev. 7, p. 478-494, 2013. doi:10.1002/lpor.201200030


Agnes Callamard, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, answer questions during a interview by the local media at a compound of University of the Philippines in Quezon city, metro Manila, Phiippines May 5, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco MANILA (Reuters) - A United Nations expert who irked the Philippines with a surprise visit said on Saturday she was keen to return and investigate alleged summary killings, but only if President Rodrigo Duterte drops his condition that she must hold a debate with him. Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, has been vocal about allegations of systematic executions in the Philippines as part of Duterte's war on drugs. Thousands have been killed since he came to power in June last year. A planned visit by Callamard in December was canceled because she refused to accept Duterte's conditions. She turned up in an unofficial capacity on Friday, telling an academic conference on human rights issues that she would not carry out any research this time. "I am committed to continue my dialogue with the government and I am committed to undertake an official visit, either by myself or with the special rapporteur on the right to health," Callamard told reporters in Manila. Duterte has sought a public debate with Callamard before allowing her to conduct an inquiry into allegations of human rights violations against him, and that she be placed under oath before answering questions from the government. The maverick leader has previously stated his openness toward being probed by the U.N. and western governments, but only if he gets to publicly ask investigators questions, during which he said he would "humiliate" them and create a "spectacle". The government insists it must be given the opportunity to question U.N. rapporteurs because the Philippines had already been maligned by allegations of systematic state-sponsored killings of drug dealers and users. Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said on Friday the government would complain to the U.N. after Callamard failed to notify it of her Manila visit. It turned out, however, that Callamard had actually informed the government in advance of her trip through the Philippine mission in Geneva. But on Saturday, the government issued a statement, this time saying Callamard "conveniently failed to disclose" that the Philippine mission had asked her to reconsider the trip since Philippine officials would be in Geneva at the same time and were expecting to see her. "Her delayed reply came on the day she left for the Philippines. This was neither timely nor proper courtesy accorded to a sovereign nation," the statement said.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Kuphus polythalamia lives in a baseball-bat-like shell, burrows into the mud and eats swamp gas. An international team of scientists is studying live specimens of a giant, black, mud dwelling worm-like animal — a Kuphus polythalamia — that feeds on sulfur and lives in a shell that looks like a baseball bat. People have known about giant shipworms for centuries but obtaining live ones for study has been elusive. Researchers from the University of Utah, Northeastern University, University of the Philippines, Sultan Kudarat State University and Drexel University finally found the mollusks in a lagoon on an abandoned log farm in the Philippines. Read: Immune System Can Be Reprogrammed With Them, Researchers Say The researchers hope by studying the microbes found in of the world’s longest bivalve’s single gill they will find new antimicrobial substances. For more news videos visit Yahoo View, available now on iOS and Android. The findings were published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Unlike its slimy cousins, K.polythalamia doesn’t eat rotting wood. Rather, it burrows into the mud, consuming hydrogen sulfide. Its microbes turn the swamp gas into carbon. "This particular species fall square in the middle of the family, so we know it had to have a wood-eating ancestor," Margo Haygood, a research professor in medicinal chemistry at the University of Utah College of Pharmacy, told Popular Science. "Do they start out eating wood? We don't know anything about their life cycle, or where we might find more populations of them. And we have no idea how old they are. ... Are the specimens we studied a couple years old, or a couple hundred?" The animal’s shells, which look like elephant tusks and can be 5-feet in length, often wash ashore. The giant shipworm itself is “dark gray, shiny and floppy,” Haygood said. "I was awestruck when I first saw the sheer immensity of this bizarre animal," Marvin Altamia, a researcher at the marine sciences institute, University of the Philippines, told Phys.org. Daniel Distel of the Ocean Genome Legacy Center at Northeastern University in Boston said he and colleagues were first made aware of the colony in 2010 as the result of a Philippine TV news story on people trying to eat the slimy beasts for medicinal purposes. He told New Scientist he had been “looking for them for 20 years.” “It’s hard not to be amazed when seeing one in the flesh, even if you know nothing about them,” Distel said. “There is no other animal like them.” Distel said the giant shipworm evolved from the wood-eating variety and likely is a newer addition to the family tree.


News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: www.gizmag.com

This is the first time that scientists have found live specimens of the mud-burrowing giant shipworm (removed from its shell in this picture), which thrives on a gas toxic to most living creatures  (Credit: Marvin Altamia) Hydrogen sulfide is not a gas that is usually described as life sustaining. Even at low concentrations it smells like rotten egg and exposure to high levels can cause all kinds of health problems, such as nausea, loss of smell and even death in extreme situations. However while its toxic fumes might knock most of us out, there is a creature that thrives on this toxic gas – the giant shipworm, a mysterious mud-dwelling creature that has eluded scientists till now. Found in a lagoon laden with rotting wood in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, the giant shipworm (Kuphus polythalamia) has been playing a game of catch-me-if-you-can with scientists since the 18th century. While its empty shells, which can measure up to five-foot long, are fairly common, the creature itself – and a live specimen at that – is not, says lead investigator Daniel Distel, a research professor and director of the Ocean Genome Legacy Center at Northeastern University. As luck would have it, scientists were handed a clue when a collaborator alerted them to a Filipino documentary on the creature (known to locals as the giant tamilok). An expedition was duly organized and live specimens were eventually found and transported to the University of the Philippines for analysis. "I was awestruck when I first saw the sheer immensity of this bizarre animal," says Marvin Altamia, a researcher at the marine sciences institute, University of the Philippines. Compared to its skinny, pale-hued wood-boring cousins, which are typically a foot long (30 cm), the ink-black giant shipworm looks like the dismembered tentacle of a larger and scarier creature, reaching lengths of 155 cm (5 ft) and making it the longest bivalve known to scientists. (Despite its name, it is actually a clam, not a worm.) Bizarre appearance aside, what sets the giant shipworm apart from its cousins is the way it sustains itself. Unlike the latter, which feed on the wood they burrow into, its digestive system is disproportionately tiny compared to the rest of its body. As the researchers discovered, the giant shipworm does not have the large sac-like cecum, found in all other members of the same bivalve family, which stores digested wood particles. In addition, only trace quantities of fecal matter were found in its digestive system, which rules out the possibility that its much bigger size is due to ingestion of wood, even though it was found in a place with plenty of wood debris. Furthermore, it lives enclosed in its shell, which has a cap that covers its mouth, thus ruling out the possibility that it excavates and feeds on the sediments in the mud, like earthworms. So if it doesn't eat wood or mud, how did it become so much larger than other shipworms? The answer to this mystery lies in its outsized gill (see illustration below), within which live bacteria. While this in itself is not unusual - normal shipworms also have bacteria living in their gill that help them digest the wood they eat - what the researchers found when studying the giant shipworm was that its bacterial genome contains features, such as sulfur globules, similar to those in other sulfur-oxidizing bacteria. This led them to surmise that that the creature gets its energy from the carbon the bacteria produce when they break down the hydrogen sulfide in its habitat. And since the giant shipworm doesn't have to use its digestive organs at all, this would also explain the size of the organs. Back in 2000, Distel published a study proposing the theory that mussels found living in deep sea vents had evolved from specimens commonly found on sunken whale bones and rotting wood. This transition was made possible by the sulfur-oxidizing bacteria they harbored, which enabled them to survive on the gas produced by the vents when they sank to the ocean floor. Similarly, the researchers believe that the giant shipworm evolved from wood-eating ancestors that used wood as a "stepping stone" between habitats. Eventually, they evolved when they traded the wood-processing bacteria in their gills for the sulfur-ingesting variety, thus allowing them to thrive on the toxic gas, of which there is no shortage given the abundance of rotting wood and organic matter in these marine environments. Apart from giving them a complete makeover in the size and anatomy departments, the researchers also believe that this evolutionary transition led to "a fundamental change" in the relationship between the shipworms and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria. In wood-eating shipworms, the bacteria acquire organic carbon from the host and in return provide digestive enzymes that help it to process the wood it eats, note the authors in their study. In the case of the giant shipworm, the bacteria require no organic carbon from the host, but instead provide it with the carbon they produce. "We suspected the giant shipworm was radically different from other wood-eating shipworms," says senior author Margo Haygood, a research professor in medicinal chemistry at the University of Utah. "Finding the animal confirmed that." You can watch the researchers remove the giant shipworm from its shell in the video below – if you dare. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


News Article | April 30, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte handed Beijing a political victory in the chairman's statement released after the ASEAN meeting (AFP Photo/Ted ALJIBE) Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte failed to condemn China's push to control most of the disputed South China Sea on Sunday after hosting a regional summit, handing Beijing a political victory. A day after taking centre stage as host of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders' meeting, Duterte released a bland chairman's statement that ignored last year's international ruling outlawing China's sweeping claims to the key waterway. "We took note of concerns expressed by some leaders over recent developments in the area," said the 25-page statement without any mention of what these issues were, which countries were thought to be responsible, and which heads of state raised them. China has been turning reefs and shoals in areas of the sea claimed by the Philippines and other nations into artificial islands, and installing military facilities on them. ASEAN members Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also claim parts of the sea, but China insists it has sovereign rights over nearly all of it. Throughout the summit Duterte said the Philippines and other nations were helpless to stop the island building, so there was no point discussing it at diplomatic events such as Saturday's meeting. China is not a member of the 10-nation ASEAN, but its ambassador to Manila worked hard to influence the tenor and content of the chairman's statement, diplomats earlier told AFP. Analysts agreed the bland statement was a result of Chinese pressure. "This reflects the Cambodianisation of Philippine foreign policy. We're starting to behave like Cambodia, which is extremely sensitive to China's strategic interests," said Renato de Castro, international studies professor at Manila's De La Salle University. At an ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting last year in Laos, Cambodia -- which has strong economic ties to Beijing -- controversially blocked a proposed joint communique referring to the international tribunal's ruling against China. Duterte has vowed not to "taunt or flaunt" the tribunal ruling while pushing closer ties with China in the hopes of attracting billions of dollars in Chinese investment. His predecessor Benigno Aquino had pushed hard at ASEAN summits for the bloc to voice its strong opposition to Chinese expansionism, and official statements at those events often reflected that. Aquino also filed the case at the international tribunal. But the ruling against China came after Duterte took power last year. "On the ground, there is no hindrance to China achieving absolute dominance in the South China Sea, whether in military or civilian terms, regardless of parameters set by international law," said Jay Batongbacal, from the University of the Philippines. The statement "makes it more difficult for ASEAN to agree soonest on a consistent and unified basis for dealing with China and the maritime disputes," he said. An earlier draft of the chairman's statement seen by AFP cited a reference to "respect for legal and diplomatic processes". Another version also contained a call, championed by Vietnam according to diplomats, to cease "land reclamation and militarisation" of the sea. Both references were absent in Sunday's final statement.


Our world seems to grow smaller by the day as biodiversity rapidly dwindles, but Mother Earth still has a surprise or two up her sleeve. An international team of researchers were the first to investigate a never before studied species -- a giant, black, mud dwelling, worm-like animal. The odd animal doesn't seem to eat much, instead it gets its energy from a form of sulfur. The findings, led by scientists at the University of Utah, Northeastern University, University of the Philippines, Sultan Kudarat State University and Drexel University, will be published online in the Apr. 17 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. People have known about the existence of the creature for centuries. The three- to five-foot long, tusk-like shells that encase the animal were first documented in the 18th century. "The shells are fairly common," begins lead investigator Daniel Distel, Ph.D., a research professor and director of the Ocean Genome Legacy Center at Northeastern University, "But we have never had access to the animal living inside." The animal's preferred habitat was unclear, but the research team benefitted from a bit of serendipity when one of their collaborators shared a documentary that aired on Philippine television. The video showed the bizarre creatures planted, like carrots, in the mud of a shallow lagoon. Following this lead, the scientists set up an expedition and found live specimens of Kuphus polythalamia. With a live giant shipworm finally in hand, the research team huddled around Distel as he carefully washed the sticky mud caked to the outside of the giant shipworm shell and tapped off the outer cap, revealing the creature living inside. "I was awestruck when I first saw the sheer immensity of this bizarre animal," says Marvin Altamia, researcher at the marine sciences institute, University of the Philippines. "Being present for the first encounter of an animal like this is the closest I will ever get to being a 19th century naturalist," says the study's senior author Margo Haygood, a research professor in medicinal chemistry at the University of Utah College of Pharmacy. Because the animal had never been studied rigorously, little was known about its life history, habitat, or biology. "We suspected the giant shipworm was radically different from other wood-eating shipworms," says Haygood. "Finding the animal confirmed that." Altamia continues, "Frankly, I was nervous. If we made a mistake, we could lose the opportunity to discover the secrets of this very rare specimen." The scientists were then faced with an interesting dilemma explain why Kuphus is so unusual. The answer may lie in the remote habitat in which it was found, a lagoon laden with rotting wood. The normal shipworm burrows deep into the wood of trees that have washed into the ocean, munching on and digesting the wood with the help of bacteria. Unlike its shipworm cousins, Kuphus lives in the mud. It also turns to bacteria to obtain nourishment, but in a different way. Kuphus lives in a pretty stinky place. The organic-rich mud around its habitat emits hydrogen sulfide, a gas derived from sulfur, which has a distinct rotten egg odor. This environment may be noxious for you and me, but it is a feast for the giant shipworm. And yet Kuphus themselves don't eat, or if they do, they eat very little. Instead, they rely on beneficial bacteria that live in their gills that make food for them. Like tiny chefs, these bacteria use the hydrogen sulfide as energy to produce organic carbon that feeds the shipworm. This process is similar to the way green plants use the sun's energy to convert carbon dioxide in the air into simple carbon compounds during photosynthesis. As a result, many of Kuphus's internal digestive organs have shrunk from lack of use. The giant shipworm's lifestyle lends support to a hypothesis proposed by Distel almost two decades ago. Acquiring a different type of beneficial bacteria could explain how shipworms transition from a wood-eating organism to one that uses a noxious gas in mud to survive. The research team will continue to examine the role wood plays in the unique transition between the normal shipworm and the giant shipworm. "We are also interested to see if similar transitions can be found for other animals that live in unique habitats around the world," said Distel. The discovery of this flagship creature expands on our understanding of biodiversity in the Indo-Pacific region, which was made possible through collaborative nature of this interdisciplinary, international research group. This work is an important component of research grants provided by the International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups program. The program helps researchers conduct projects in developing countries to identify unique, novel compounds for future drug development, while building research capacity and conserving biodiversity in the host country. Distel and Haygood collaborated with colleagues from University of Utah, Drexel University, Second Genome in San Francisco, Ecole Normale Superieure, France and the University of the Philippines, the Sultan Kudarat State University and the Philippine Genome Center in the Philippines. The research was funded by National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and U.S Department of Energy, Joint Genome Institute.


News Article | April 25, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Northeastern professor Daniel Distel and his colleagues have discovered a dark slithering creature four feet long that dwells in the foul mud of a remote lagoon in the Philippines. They say studying the animal, a giant shipworm with pinkish siphons at one end and an eyeless head at the other, could add to our understanding of how bacteria cause infections and, in turn, how we might adapt to tolerate--and even benefit from--them. Live specimens of the massive shipworm, which was captured by Distel's team with the help of researchers from the area, have eluded scientific description for hundreds of years. Distel, research professor at Northeastern's Marine Science Center, has been searching for it for two decades. He had examined fragments of its tusk-like shell, made of calcium carbonate, and gazed wistfully at dead specimens preserved in ethanol. But neither he, nor any other living researchers, had ever come across a live specimen of the ancient species, a bivalve mollusc named Kuphus polythalamia that was first described (though incorrectly classified) by Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus in 1758. Now, in a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Distel and his colleagues present their research on the live shipworm. They describe how, remarkably, it does not eat, at least not much--it has a tiny digestive system--but instead bacteria living inside its gills convert sulfur gas from rotting wood into nutrients to keep it alive. "Most shipworms are very delicate, translucent, usually white, beige or pink," says Distel, who directs the Ocean Genome Legacy at Northeastern, a unique biological bank where researchers acquire DNA from organisms around the world for genetic analysis. "They're mostly small, a few centimeters long. You have to be very careful not to damage them when you're taking them out of the wood, where they live. This thing was like a baseball bat. It was a beefy, muscular animal, jet black." Indeed, the team had to edit much of the audio out of the original video of the creature's debut. "When I took that thing out of the tube there was a collective gasp among the whole group," says Distel, "along with quite a number of expletives that had to be deleted." Distel's genomic analysis of the host Kuphus as well as the bacteria whipping up its food revealed a symbiotic relationship between the two that elucidates an "evolutionary stepping stone," he says. Shipworms as a rule eat wood; hence their being dubbed "termites of the sea." Bacteria in their gills, Distel discovered earlier, secrete enzymes that travel to their gut and break down the wood--which is made of cellulose, an organic material--turning it into sugars. But wood can also serve as a source of hydrogen sulfide--a sulfur gas that smells like rotten eggs. "We believe that somewhere along the line a shipworm acquired a sulfur-oxidizing bacteria as a symbiont, and it was able to get energy not just from the wood but also from the inorganic gas hydrogen sulfide coming from the wood as it rotted," says Distel. "Eventually the new symbiosis completely replaced the old symbiosis." Other marine animals also get their nutrients from sulfur-oxidizing symbionts, but the sulfur source differs: The giant tubeworm Riftia pachyptila, for example, gets its sulfur from the effluence of volcanic hot springs on the sea floor. The symbiont bacteria convert the hydrogen sulfide into food similar to the way photosynthesis works in green plants. Green plants take energy from sunlight and use it to synthesize sugars from carbon dioxide. The bacteria take chemical energy from hydrogen sulfide, pull carbon dioxide out of the seawater, and synthesize sugars and other nutrients. "These bacteria live inside the animals' cells, alongside the cytoplasm," says Distel. "If we or any vertebrate had bacteria living inside our cells, we'd be very sick. In the long run, studying these symbioses may tell us a lot about the process of disease. What is it about these bacteria that they can infect the host yet not harm it? How does the host learn to tolerate, and even benefit from, the bacteria?" "For a biologist who is interested in these bivalves, it's like a unicorn," said Margo Haygood, a marine microbiologist at the University of Utah and senior author on the study, in a video revealing one of the giant shipworms. Distel praises the power of social media for helping the researchers finally find the elusive giant. They were in the Philippines in 2010 as part of a National Institutes of Health-funded project called the Philippine Mollusc Symbiont-International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups, studying molluscs and symbiotic bacteria in search of natural compounds that might be developed into antibiotics and other drugs. A student researcher reported seeing a YouTube documentary showing people on the island of Mindanao eating the shipworms, a delicacy, known in the area as Tamilok, that some believe has medicinal properties. By the time the live creatures--packed in an odiferous brew of mud and seawater inside PVC pipes--arrived on the dissecting table at the University of the Philippines Manila, Distel's head was spinning. "I was excited, amazed, and then concerned," he says about seeing the animal slip out of its shell tubing after he'd cracked open one end. "What samples do we need to take? What tissues do we freeze? What tissues do we preserve in ethanol? What tissues do we preserve for electron microscopy? How do we preserve things for DNA studies? Remember, we didn't know what we were going to get so we couldn't fully prepare. Once we started cutting, amazement was gone and it was down to work, trying to figure out, 'How do we not screw this up?'"


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

The shells were known about since the 18th century: some three- to five-foot long coverings that looked like tusks were described by sailors 300 years ago. But where they came from was never entirely established. Now a team of scientists has tracked down the organisms within: a giant wormlike animal that lives in certain select lagoons in the Philippines. The giant shipworm lives like a plant in the mud, getting its sustenance from sulfur-consuming bacteria in its gills, and is vastly different from other shipworms, which have been known to subsist on rotting driftwood. Somehow, the enormous and strange organism went undiscovered for centuries, say the researchers from the University of Utah, Northeastern University, University of the Philippines, Sultan Kudarat State University, and Drexel University. “I was awestruck when I first saw the sheer immensity of this bizarre animal,” said Marvin Altamia, of the University of the Philippines. “Being present for the first encounter of an animal like this is the closest I will ever get to being a 19th century naturalist,” added Margo Haygood, the senior author, of Utah. Kuphus polythalamia has apparently been identified as a species since the 19th century based solely on the shells, which are fairly common, according to lead investigator Daniel Distel of Northeastern. But no one had studied the living animal. One of the Filipino researchers shared a documentary that had been shown on TV in that country. It showed the shipworms planted “like carrots” in the mud. The scientists went to the lagoon, and were able to find their own live specimens of the worm. Distel washed the outer shell then gently tapped off its end cap – and came face to valve with the the bizarre creature that had escaped human notice for so long. “Frankly, I was nervous,” said Altamia. “If we made a mistake, we could lose the opportunity to discover the secrets of this very rare specimen.” Upon taking the shipworm back to the laboratory, they discovered that the Kuphus species relies on bacteria to convert hydrogen sulfide from the lagoon into carbon that feeds that shipworm. The species’ digestive organs have shrunk from underuse, they added. The range of the giant shipworm remains unknown, according to the scientists.


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: www.sciencedaily.com

Northeastern professor Daniel Distel and his colleagues have discovered a dark slithering creature four feet long that dwells in the foul mud of a remote lagoon in the Philippines. They say studying the animal, a giant shipworm with pinkish siphons at one end and an eyeless head at the other, could add to our understanding of how bacteria cause infections and, in turn, how we might adapt to tolerate -- and even benefit from -- them. Live specimens of the massive shipworm, which was captured by Distel's team with the help of researchers from the area, have eluded scientific description for hundreds of years. Distel, research professor at Northeastern's Marine Science Center, has been searching for it for two decades. He had examined fragments of its tusk-like shell, made of calcium carbonate, and gazed wistfully at dead specimens preserved in ethanol. But neither he, nor any other living researchers, had ever come across a live specimen of the ancient species, a bivalve mollusc named Kuphus polythalamia that was first described (though incorrectly classified) by Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus in 1758. Now, in a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Distel and his colleagues present their research on the live shipworm. They describe how, remarkably, it does not eat, at least not much -- it has a tiny digestive system -- but instead bacteria living inside its gills convert sulfur gas from rotting wood into nutrients to keep it alive. "Most shipworms are very delicate, translucent, usually white, beige or pink," says Distel, who directs the Ocean Genome Legacy at Northeastern, a unique biological bank where researchers acquire DNA from organisms around the world for genetic analysis. "They're mostly small, a few centimeters long. You have to be very careful not to damage them when you're taking them out of the wood, where they live. This thing was like a baseball bat. It was a beefy, muscular animal, jet black." Indeed, the team had to edit much of the audio out of the original video of the creature's debut. "When I took that thing out of the tube there was a collective gasp among the whole group," says Distel, "along with quite a number of expletives that had to be deleted." Distel's genomic analysis of the host Kuphus as well as the bacteria whipping up its food revealed a symbiotic relationship between the two that elucidates an "evolutionary stepping stone," he says. Shipworms as a rule eat wood; hence their being dubbed "termites of the sea." Bacteria in their gills, Distel discovered earlier, secrete enzymes that travel to their gut and break down the wood -- which is made of cellulose, an organic material -- turning it into sugars. But wood can also serve as a source of hydrogen sulfide -- a sulfur gas that smells like rotten eggs. "We believe that somewhere along the line a shipworm acquired a sulfur-oxidizing bacteria as a symbiont, and it was able to get energy not just from the wood but also from the inorganic gas hydrogen sulfide coming from the wood as it rotted," says Distel. "Eventually the new symbiosis completely replaced the old symbiosis." Other marine animals also get their nutrients from sulfur-oxidizing symbionts, but the sulfur source differs: The giant tubeworm Riftia pachyptila, for example, gets its sulfur from the effluence of volcanic hot springs on the sea floor. The symbiont bacteria convert the hydrogen sulfide into food similar to the way photosynthesis works in green plants. Green plants take energy from sunlight and use it to synthesize sugars from carbon dioxide. The bacteria take chemical energy from hydrogen sulfide, pull carbon dioxide out of the seawater, and synthesize sugars and other nutrients. "These bacteria live inside the animals' cells, alongside the cytoplasm," says Distel. "If we or any vertebrate had bacteria living inside our cells, we'd be very sick. In the long run, studying these symbioses may tell us a lot about the process of disease. What is it about these bacteria that they can infect the host yet not harm it? How does the host learn to tolerate, and even benefit from, the bacteria?" "For a biologist who is interested in these bivalves, it's like a unicorn," said Margo Haygood, a marine microbiologist at the University of Utah and senior author on the study, in a video revealing one of the giant shipworms. Distel praises the power of social media for helping the researchers finally find the elusive giant. They were in the Philippines in 2010 as part of a National Institutes of Health-funded project called the Philippine Mollusc Symbiont-International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups, studying molluscs and symbiotic bacteria in search of natural compounds that might be developed into antibiotics and other drugs. A student researcher reported seeing a YouTube documentary showing people on the island of Mindanao eating the shipworms, a delicacy, known in the area as Tamilok, that some believe has medicinal properties. By the time the live creatures -- packed in an odiferous brew of mud and seawater inside PVC pipes -- arrived on the dissecting table at the University of the Philippines Manila, Distel's head was spinning. "I was excited, amazed, and then concerned," he says about seeing the animal slip out of its shell tubing after he'd cracked open one end. "What samples do we need to take? What tissues do we freeze? What tissues do we preserve in ethanol? What tissues do we preserve for electron microscopy? How do we preserve things for DNA studies? Remember, we didn't know what we were going to get so we couldn't fully prepare. Once we started cutting, amazement was gone and it was down to work, trying to figure out, 'How do we not screw this up?'"


News Article | May 2, 2017
Site: www.forbes.com

Eight months ago Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called his former American counterpart Barack Obama a son of a whore. Throughout much of last year, after his June 30 inauguration, the notoriously outspoken Duterte told the United States in just slightly less coarse language to quit helping his Southeast Asian country with military aid. He resented Washington, a former colonizer of the Philippines, for criticizing his deadly anti-drug campaign. Now look who current U.S. President Donald Trump just invited to the White House. Duterte hasn’t accepted the invitation and has hinted he may pass. He's busily making friends with China, Washington’s chief political and military rival in Asia. China pledged $24 billion in aid to the largely impoverished Philippines in October. Washington never offered such a wide-reaching package, some Filipinos argued then. But Beijing and Manila still dispute tracts of the South China Sea, a reason Duterte's predecessors preferred the United States. Boats from both Asian countries intensively fish the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea. The two governments hope to strike oil or gas under the seabed. Duterte likes China so much he may have let Chinese vessels explore off the Philippine archipelago’s Pacific Ocean continental shelf last year. Only Manila claims sovereignty to that tract. Following a few flaps over maritime sovereignty in March and April, China on Monday docked three warships on a goodwill visit to Duterte’s hometown Davao. The president suggested the two countries might jointly patrol the Sulu Sea where the Philippines is trying to squelch the Abu Sayyaf terrorist-slash-Muslim-rebel group. The U.S. president who just passed his 100th day in office hasn’t come out with a solid policy on the South China Sea, analysts in Asia say. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hinted in January at an eventually stiff anti-China stance, but Trump is trying to work with China now on containing the North Korea threat. Beijing claims about 95% of the resource-rich sea, covering parts of exclusive economic zones normally controlled by Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam as well as the Philippines. China has the region’s strongest military, which it’s prepped to deploy on some of the sea’s islets that it has landfilled over the past half-decade, a Washington-based think tank says. In defending the invitation to Duterte against critics of his anti-drug campaign, the White House said Sunday it hoped to solidify an Asian alliance against North Korea. Washington may ultimately try sustain a military protectorate relationship in effect with Manila since colonization ended in 1946. Duterte scaled that back last year by canceling joint South China Sea patrols that irritated Beijing. The arrangement gives Washington a Southeast Asian base to monitor and resist China’s expansion. China’s growing influence in the Philippines – something that Duterte’s predecessors strongly resisted – makes it hard if not impossible for a U.S. president to stick the archipelago in its back pocket again. “I would not anticipate that Duterte will seek assistance from the United States going forward,” says Carl Baker, director of programs at the think tank Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu. That’s even after Duterte said last month he would improve structures on nine Spratly Island features his country controls but that China claims. “I think he is pretty confident that China is not going to protest too strongly to the efforts being undertaken to make the existing features more habitable," Baker says. China may keep its edge for now. Eventually the two superpowers will end up living with each other’s bids to influence Manila. Southeast Asian neighbors Indonesia and Vietnam already play both sides with little incident. You never know when you might need one more than the other. “I think for both sides, China and the U.S., as long as the Philippines is not a source of challenges for either of them, they will be fine,” says Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines. Tolerance would break down, he says, only “if the Philippines is seen as causing trouble. The way China views, it’s the Philippines that causes trouble in the South China Sea. From the American perspective, it’s more of the Philippines trying to draw it into the South China Sea against China.”

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