PINAY BIOLOGIST DISCOVERS NEW PARASITIC FUNGUS

Leyte State University, July 24, 2003 (STAR) One of the five major classifications of organisms is fungus and its heterotrophic character – an organism that cannot produce its own nutrients for propagation and sustenance – separates it from the four other classes of organisms, namely, monera (bacteria), protista (algae, diatoms and amoebas), plantae (plants) and animalia (animals).

Being heterotrophic in nature is the reason for some members of the class to live in just about anything that has organic components, like dead plants and animals, clothing and paper products, while other members directly feed on a certain living host like in humans (skin diseases such as ringworm and athletes’ foot are indications of fungus infections). The former is called caprobes, while the latter is known as parasites.

A Filipino biologist, Dr. Lina Villacarlos, recently discovered a new breed of parasitic fungus. She named it Entomorphthora leyteensis because it falls under the fungus family known as Entomorphthorales – a family that is classified as parasites on insect like the common housefly – and leyteensis from the name of the place where she discovered it, that is Leyte.

To date, there are only 11 kinds of fungus under the family Entomorphthorales, which are known and recognized by the international science and academic communities. The discovery of three of these fungi was also credited to Villacarlos – the Batkoa amrascae, the Entomophaga bukidnonensis and the Entomorphthoro philippinensis.

The National Research Council of the Philippines (NCRP) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) considers this breakthrough as Villacarlos’ fourth contribution to the world’s scientific lexicon that details the biotic characteristics of many fungus species and their impact to man and environment.

When asked about the impact of this parasitic fungus to man and the environment, Villacarlos said the use of the Entomorphthora leyteensis species as biological control has a great potential.

According to her, this species is most effective in exterminating a massive population of a specific species of whitefly – the Tetraleurodes acaciae.

The prevalence and plant infestation of this whitefly species was first recorded in California and Mexico in 1990. She said that although this species is newly introduced in the Philippines, it greatly infected kakawate or madre cacao (Glericidia sepium).

In the country, kakawate or madre cacao is the most common kind of shrub that is used as live fencing for homes, parks, ranches, etc.

The NRCP strongly contends that a scientific breakthrough such as Villacarlos’ deserve recognition from the Philippine government aside from an increased financial and logistical support that should be immediately awarded to further studies that may eventually lead to the formulation of a patented technology.

Villacarlos, now officially based at the Research and Development Department of Leyte State University, is one of the 3,000 internationally renowned scientists who comprise the scientifically and technologically skilled human resource of the NRCP, the oldest scientific advisory body of the Philippine government.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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