Saturday, November 19, 2016

Meet the 2016 CAS Outstanding Student

by Rochelle B. Sarmiento (Polylinker)

When the midnight clock strikes at one, two days before an exam, he would sit on a black plastic chair beside the glass wall of a fastfood chain where students of various doses of sleep would flock, sometimes with other friends, other times alone. 

He would often be geared with a handful of photocopied readings and a thick book borrowed from the university library. Then some moments later, he would walk towards the counter and order one thing: a plain iced coffee. And occasionally, a familiar face would call him by his nickname, and he would smile wide. He might be proud of his almost perfect teeth. 

Gracing the smile
PJ, known to some of his friends and professors as the man who is fond of moderately infusing himself with caffeine, was recently conferred as the 2016 College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Outstanding Student with that same proud smile. This time, however, he was summoned by his full name, Paul Jhon P. Diezon, up on the stage of the CAS Auditorium, with this mother Janette who was equally, or even more than proud, but never arrogant, of her son. PJ received his award on the 18th of November, during the 44th CAS Foundation Anniversary Celebration Convocation and Awarding Ceremonies.
PJ Diezon smiles while holding his plaque of recognition; his proud mom is on his right side
Photo by Leann Suiton
Becoming a GeneSoc member
A BS Biology major in Cell and Molecular Biology student, PJ joined The UPLB Genetics Society in 2013 where he was elected as the editor-in-chief of GENEWS, GeneSoc’s official publication, for AY 2014-2015. He shared that his experiences as a GeneSoc member helped him improve not only his social skills, but his work ethics as well.

He also mentioned that GeneSoc was one of the reasons that he decided to run for the College of Arts and Sciences Student Council (CAS SC) under the slate of Samahan ng Kabataan Para Sa Bayan (SAKBAYAN). GeneSoc was among the 25 formations which established SAKBAYAN on July 1, 1996 as an alliance against the pressing issues on commercialization of education and campus repression. To date, SAKBAYAN remains as the widest alliance of student organizations, fraternities, and sororities throughout the University of the Philippines System, with 61 member-organizations and an affiliate alliance.

Furthermore, PJ served as a member of CAS SC for two consecutive terms having won his seat as a councilor and, presently, as its vice chairperson. His posts in the council opened his eyes onto the various social problems that the sector of education is facing, including the continuous increase in tuition fees and the implementation of the Socialized Tuition System (STS) and Student Academic Information System (SAIS) in the university. Considering himself as an advocate for free and accessible education, he has also been active in participating in a number of movements and mobilizations in the campus.

PJ participates in the 6th Southern Tagalog Pride March spearheaded by UPLB Babaylan last October 2016 in UPLB
Photos from SAKBAYAN

And as a break from the tasks of being a campus journalist and a student leader, he finds pleasure in playing volleyball. In fact, he has been a part of GeneSoc’s volleyball team ever since he joined the organization. He has also played for the CAS volleyball team for three successive years.

Falling in love
PJ entered UPLB with an aspiration of becoming a healthcare provider for people who have cancer. But after spending some time as a student tutor at the Office of Student Affairs and having been exposed to a range of extracurricular activities in his unending list of affiliations, he admitted that he fell in love, with teaching. His involvements in efforts that transcend beyond the confines of the handouts and the borrowed books made him realize that the problems of poor communities in the country have to be given sufficient attention, and eventually, to be properly addressed. These unserved and underserved communities, he said, needed a service that would be rendered in the form we are capable of. In his case, PJ finds himself to be of service through teaching. By now, he is resolute that he would be an educator in a public or state university upon his graduation.

Serving the people
PJ believes that the award was given to him not merely to account for being able to attend to his extracurricular works and still obtain those straightly ruled grades which were diligently gained at the expense of the iced coffee and the ink of his green highlighter. He emphasized that such distinction also serves as a spur “to do better, to be inspired, to be fueled with that burning passion in serving the greater masses— the Filipino people.” 

After all, maybe the cancer he wanted to help cure was the “social cancer” which our National Hero depicted on several of his literary works for his homeland.

Encouraging his co-students
For the past few years, CAS has recognized its students who have exemplified excellence while engaging in activities outside the stadium of lecture halls and laboratory classrooms. 

This year, the CAS Outstanding Student is certain that UP education is parceled with a responsibility which is tantamount to leading the country towards progress. 

And just like any other student, he sees, and experiences, a multitude of difficulties that may come along the way. His advice: “work hard, in spite of all, to give back to the nation that is waiting for us.” #

Rochelle B. Sarmiento is a senior Genetics major who intends to pursue a career in medicine after graduation. It is of her interest to read studies on epigenetic mechanisms and quantitative inheritance governing the expression of certain traits in human populations. She is also fond of reading classic literature and engaging in volunteer works. 

You may e-mail her at 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Pride in Full Bloom

by Paul Jhon Diezon (Phagemids)

For the sixth time, Los Baños waved its rainbow flag in celebration of pride. Spearheaded by UPLB Babaylan, an organization established in 2009 that forefronts gender equality, the event was in full color as participants from different sectors gathered in a march themed “Pride March Natin ‘to.” 
Setting the Context of a Continuous Struggle

Believing that the struggle of the LGBT is not far from the struggles of the Filipino masses, the march’s main campaign is the passing of the Anti-Discrimination Bill. This bill aims to end all forms of discrimination for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) community in the country, after House Bill 5687 – its latest version failed to pass in the 16th Congress. It also seeks to prohibit discriminatory practices on the basis of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, specifically in hiring, firing and demotions; rejection or expulsion from any educational or training institution; giving harsher penalties, punishments, and requirements; refusal and revocation of honors, achievements and licenses; prevention of use of public facilities; mandatory psychological tests; and harassment or refused protection by law enforcers.

The bill also aims to provide law enforcers a series of gender awareness training, which will help them address certain hate crimes. The country has had around 200 documented cases since the 90’s, while several others remain unreported. One of such crimes is the murder of Jennifer Laude in October 2014. Until today, justice has yet to be served. 

Many other Filipinos, mostly unknown to mainstream media, have suffered the same fate as Laude despite the fact that the country has been named as one of the most gay-friendly nations in the world, and the most LGBT-friendly in Asia in a study conducted by the Pew Research Center.

The long road for the passing of this bill could be traced back in the ‘90s where it marks the first demonstration of attendance by an organized sector of the country’s LGBT community in the participation of a lesbian group called Lesbian Collective, joining the International Women’s Day march of 1992. Various groups including the UP Babaylan in 1992, were established. In 1999, Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network, otherwise known as LAGABLAB was formed and proposed the Anti-Discriminations Bill (ADB) of 2000. Six years later, another House Bill was filed in the lower house, but only reached the second reading.

Going Deep into the Genome

Aside from the debates regarding discrimination and attempts to break the stereotype, huge efforts on explaining sexual orientation has been coming in the field of science. However, generating a more reliable data on frequencies has been hindered by the fact that homosexuals tend to have, on average, five times fewer children than heterosexual males. According to Nature, the biology of sexual orientation has been one of the most vexing — and politically charged — questions in human genetics. And surprisingly, one study recognized the possible link between homosexuality and genetic tags that are affected by the environment.

In one study, DNA samples were gathered from 37 pairs of identical twins in which only one twin was gay, and 10 pairs in which both were gay. By scanning the twins’ epigenomes, the researchers found five epigenetic marks that were deemed common among the gay men than in their identical straight brothers. An algorithm was also developed based on the five marks which could possibly predict the sexual orientation of men in the study 67% of the time.

A number of twin studies and family trees also provide strong evidence that sexual orientation is at least partly genetic. According to another study, when one identical twin is gay, there is about a 20% chance that the other will be as well. But since this incidence isn’t observed in all subjects, it is believed that environmental factors play a huge role, too. The controversial locus, Xq28 was also a favorite subject in linkage studies where results have shown that polymorphisms in this location coincide with greater concordance rates than that of the Mendelian segregation. But despite the continuous efforts to find the link of genetics and homosexuality, some scientists still refuse to believe that there exists a gene for homosexuality.

Living in Full Color

Genetically-based or not, diversity in sexuality should never be a reason for someone to be discriminated and oppressed by the society. It should never be a reason why someone would be rejected in the workplace, deprived of education and healthcare or denied of the right to live. We should not wait for another Jennifer Laude before we realize that we need to pass a law that protects the rights of our LGBTQ.

But our plight doesn’t end on the LGBTQ community alone. Discrimination still thrives in various sectors of the society and it is our duty to truly address these issues—via education. After all, LGBTQ rights and all other rights are still human rights and no one is entitled to deprive anyone of their right to live in full bloom, in waves of different colors.#

(Sources: Rappler, Inquirer & Nature)

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Genetics Week 2016: From DNA to Olympic Gold

by Joana Cruz (Cyclosome)

With the theme “Sports Genetics: Demystifying the Strength of the DNAthlete," The UPLB Genetics Society (GeneSoc) will feature Sports Genetics on its 33rd year to divulge the connection of genetics and individual athleticism. It aims to explain that athleticism is more than just a product of environment and mental discipline but also of the interaction and expression of our genes.

According to scientists, there are about 200 genes that are linked to our physical performance and that their expression also depend on the presence of other genes. This is observable in the ACTN3 gene, the "speed and power gene," which has the R and X alleles. The R allele triggers the expression of the speed gene while its absence inhibits its expression. Moreover, heightened athleticism is not solely attributed to genome organization; it can also be influenced by gene mutations which according to scientists occur alongside with evolution.
Sports genetics evolved and diversified through time and its concept emphasizes that we can all be athletically-inclined; that we can be like the runners, swimmers and athletes we idolize; that we can be one of those who will take home an Olympic gold.