Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Redefining Gene-by-Environment Interaction

by Rochelle Sarmiento 

Almost always in every Genetics-related lecture I have so far tried to comprehend, and, seemingly, fortunate to have understood, my professors would emphasize that the very traits being expressed by any organism are a product of the interplay of various genetic and environmental factors. In several instances, they would tell— one hand holding the microphone, a leg stancing forward, and eyes looking towards the sea of fascinated and uninterested students alike— that as an individual ages, the environment he is predisposed to would hugely play a role on what makes him basically him.

Such notion is a widely accepted and acknowledged pillar of the concepts in Genetics. And when conceptually applied to matters of prime and social relevance, it would also pose an equally worth noting idea: that our perspectives on certain issues in the society may be influenced by the surroundings we find ourselves in and the people we have the opportunity to interact with.

The Program

Take as an example the conduct of the K4Health Community Youth Training Program. True to the meaning of K4, Kabataang Kabalikat ng Komunidad para sa Kalusugan, the primary aim of the said activity is to spark active participation among the youth towards sustainable improvement of the health of the people.

Having made its pilot and second implementations at the Municipality of Nampicuan in Nueva Ecija last June 7 to 9 and August 27 to 28, respectively, the program has been able to produce 27 volunteer youth leaders (VYLs) who are trained to be on the forefront of raising awareness on the importance of folic acid supplementation and newborn screening in their community.

Barangay Service Point Ofiicers (BSPO), GeneSoc facilitators, and youth volunteers of Nampicuan assemble for a photo opportunity after the special portion of the training program intended for BSPOs (Photo: GeneSoc)

The Drive

Interestingly, K4Health was the entry submitted by The UPLB Genetics Society in this year’s search for the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations (TAYO) in the country. The submission was made out of mere optimism that if, by chance, GeneSoc would be given a distinction by the organizing body of TAYO awards through the K4Health, more formations and individuals would get to support its succeeding implementations in other underserved communities. Undeniably, K4Health have come far. It is now one of the 20 finalists out of 445 entries of the 14th TAYO Awards.

Despite its ostensible achievement, as with any other fruitful endeavors, the program first came to its being from just a simple yet hopeful idea.

A few months before the pilot implementation of K4Health, Nampicuan’s Municipal Health Officer and GeneSoc alumnus Dr. Ron Allan Quimado (BS BIO, '08) only wanted for the maternal and infant health and well-being in his community to advance. This led him to work hand-in-hand with Mr. Ryan John Pascual (BS BIO, '10), his fellow GeneSoc alumnus and the national president of Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health Philippines from 2011 to 2012. These two passionate people, considered as kuyas in GeneSoc, asked some of the resident members if they would want to spearhead a three-day training program for VYLs. And although doubtful in terms of raising enough funds to carry out the program, the resident members during that time still agreed to proceed with the planning and preparation of K4Health, thinking that the necessary funds would make their way in time.

True enough, with the support and mentorship of the Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health - Philippines, Department of Health Central Luzon Regional Office (DOH RO3), Newborn Screening Center Central Luzon (NSC-CL), Institute of Human Genetics of the National Institutes of Health in UP Manila, Municipality of Nampicuan in Nueva Ecija, UPLB Ugnayan ng Pahinungod, and some GeneSoc alumni, the resources needed to conduct the program were procured before the core group of residents went to Nampicuan in order to facilitate the training program.

The Challenge

It has already been six months after the core group started planning for K4Health. The preparations to the actual program facilitation, and to the next phases in store for K4Health, may entail huge amount of time among the members of the organization. These may even demand for nights of little to no sleep, for meals to be skipped, and for movies to be set aside.

As K4Health Program tries to reach out to more communities while still monitoring and mentoring the youth in its previous implementation site, one member of the organization— a Gene— might feel, in some cases, as though he would not want any more to contribute what he can for the program. He might choose to turn a blind eye to the program itself, to think that it did not exist in the first place.

But there will always be those dashes of reasons which will make him realize that he has a role to play. And this is something he cannot, and will not, be able to ignore.
 For once he recognizes that the program is not made only to be submitted as an entry for TAYO Awards; that it is not carried out for the organization to have at least one outreach activity every semester as required by the Office of Student Affairs; but rather believing that through the program, a person’s life may somehow be breathed easier, he— together with other passionate individuals advocating for this noble cause— will be left empowered to ceaselessly work for such undertaking.

In the end, the idea behind K4Health speaks much of what the youth may collectively accomplish to lead improved lives in their communities. Doing this kind of endeavor is also one of the ways of embodying the meaning of Oblation, the iconic representation of the University of the Philippines, at which any Gene, as a Iskolar ng Bayan, finds his home. Truly, this effort resonates with any Iskolar ng Bayan’s selfless and ultimate commitment in serving the nation, as he does what he can while staying connectedly rooted with his countrymen to pave the way towards a better Philippines.#

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