A UST professor’s work in the field of taxonomy and systematics has earned him a prestigious scientific award.

Grecebio Alejandro, director of the Office of Graduate Research, was awarded the Gregorio Y. Zara Achievement Award for Basic Research for his contributions particularly in Plant Molecular Phylogenetics

Established in 1968, the Gregorio Y. Zara award is the brainchild of the family of National Scientist Gregorio Zara and the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology (PhilAAST).

The annual award seeks to recognize the achievements of the country’s most outstanding scientists in two fields: one in the field of Basic Science Research, and another for Applied Science Research.

Alejandro, also a resident researcher at the Research Center of the Natural and Applied Sciences and a professor in the College of Science, is the 38th recipient of the award. He received it from Pacita Zara, Gregorio’s daughter, during the International Conference on Science and Technology Education and 64th annual Convention of the PhilAAST last September 10.

“I am very happy. I really had no idea that I was chosen for the award,” said Alejandro.

España’s botanical garden

Alejandro’s work pioneered Plant Molecular Phylogenetics in the Philippines. It is a field that analyzes differences in DNA sequences to gain information on an organism’s evolution through time.

The researcher is also recognized for the discovery of novel genera and several new endemic species of plants in the country. He is also currently the project leader of the Thomasian Angiosperm Phylogeny Barcoding Group that will aid in the molecular identification of Philippine medicinal plants by a DNA Barcoding Database.

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Alejandro has also discovered more than 20 species of endemic plants. Some of the plants that he discovered are the Mussaenda ustii, a plant he named after the University, and the Hedyotis papafranciscoi, a plant named after Pope Francis after the recent Papal Visit in the country last Jan 15-19.

“I am very grateful to them [PhilAAST] for this wonderful award. I’m really happy they recognized me because my field [Systematics and Taxonomy] is already a dying field,” he said, adding that he promised Pacita that if he discovers a new plant, he will name it after Gregorio Zara.

Alejandro’s development of the DNA Barcoding Database, a four-year project, in partnership with the Department of Science-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD), made the University the “Center for DNA Barcoding and Conservation.” The project will be turned over to the DOST-PCHRD this December.

Alejandro is planning to work next on the development of a “seed bank” in the University. This project is under the umbrella of a bigger program which is already partially accepted.

Life for science

Alejandro earned his BS Biology degree in Far Eastern University in 1993. He later got his master’s degree in Biological Science in 1999 at the University of Santo Tomas. He received his Doctorate Degree in Natural Science at the University of Bayreuth, Germany and Université de Franche-Comté in France.

Alejandro’s work is focused on discovering and naming species of plants, especially those endemic in the Philippines.

Other than the Gregorio Y. Zara award, Alejandro’s outstanding achievements in research and development has earned him the 2015 Outstanding Scientific Paper Award from the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) for his research on the Molecular Phylogeny of the Philippine genus Bikkia, including the discovery of a new species Bikkia montoyae, in honor of Academician and Director of the DOST-PCHRD Jaime Montoya.

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He also received the 2014 Department of Science and Technology Outstanding Research and Development Award for Basic Research for his paper on the endemic genus Villaria.

This year, he was awarded the NAST Outstanding Young Scientists in the field of Biology for his pioneering work in Molecular Phylogenetics using Philippine species.

As the Director of the Office of Graduate Research, Alejandro feels the need to be a role model to his students and winning this award along with his other achievements encourage him to inspire his students even more.

“Awards should make you strive more in the field,” Alejandro said. “For a research to be competitive it should be multi-disciplinary and to be a successful researcher, you need three key words: perseverance, determination and flexibility.”

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