By Tessa R. Salazar Philippine Daily Inquirer First in a series MANNY “Pacman” Pacquiao has been making all the right moves in the boxing ring. When the time comes he has to move out of it, what should be his next best move? Become a sports scientist, what else. Does this sound like a jab at the moon? Not to two sports scientists who have been keenly following Pacquiao’s ascendancy in his sport. Filipino molecular biologist and sports scientist Custer Deocaris, based in Tsukuba University in Japan but currently in the Philippines under the Balik Scientist program of the Department of Science and Technology and professor Angelita B. Cruz of the College of Human Kinetics at the University of the Philippines in Diliman urged the boxing hero to become a symbol that would herald the “golden era of sports science in the country.” Deocaris, who presented his publications on exercise during his Dec. 8 lecture “Neurogenesis and the rewards of running: Can exercise make you smarter?” at the UP Institute of Chemistry, had returned to the Philippines to present results of his scientific team’s study on how exercise improves memory and learning. Deocaris told the Inquirer that athletes had undergone optimum levels of neurogenesis (birth of new neurons) in their brains, which would make them ideal candidates for becoming scientists in their chosen sport. His fellow scientists at the Institute of Health and Sports Science in Tsukuba University include former Olympians. Deocaris named one of the world’s top figure skater Akiyuki Kido, who retired in 2007 and decided to take up a PhD in Sports Science. According to him, Kido is now working on the neuroscience of stress response. Sports scientists Deocaris mentioned as current athletes-turned-sports scientists at Tsukuba University include a world aerobics champion, a silver medalist in rowing in 1994 Olympics in Greece, judo medalists, marathoners, sprinters, hurdlers and even cheerleaders. Athletes who have spent a majority of their lifetimes honing their physical skills, sharpening their decision-making processes and undergoing extreme competitive pressures, possess the fastest reaction times and the most efficient decision-making competencies, Deocaris explained. Such athletes have brains that have become efficient transmitters of signals. They have also developed a positive mental state that motivates and exudes confidence—a factor that is needed in the field of science, particularly sports science. Deocaris and Cruz stressed that an athlete is encouraged to become a “sports scientist” because he or she is most qualified to impart knowledge to the next generation of athletes by virtue of his or her extensive experience in that particular sport. If one would follow the academic curriculum, Pacquiao could only qualify as scientist if he finishes a BSc degree and later enter to graduate school to get an MSc, MD or a PhD. Pacquiao’s business manager Eric Pineda told the Inquirer Science that Manny is currently a college freshman at the University of Notre Dame, General Santos City taking up Business Management. It seems, right now, that being a sports scientist, or just a “sports scientist” in the figurative sense of the word, is farthest from Pacquiao’s mind.
January 2009 Archives
Agence France-Presse CHICAGO--Tickle a locust's hind legs and two hours later it will be transformed into an insect ready to form a crop-devastating swarm. While researchers know why -- the tickling simulates the jostling that usually solitary locusts experience when limited food suppliers force them to crowd -- they have puzzled for decades over how the radical biological transformation occurs. A study released Thursday by the journal Science found that the brain chemical serotonin triggers the switch from aversion to attraction. "Serotonin profoundly influences how we humans behave and interact, so to find that the same chemical in the brain is what causes a normally shy antisocial insect to gang up in huge groups is amazing," said study co-author Swidbert Ott of Cambridge University. The researchers discovered that locusts in swarm mode -- called gregarious locusts -- had serotonin levels three times higher than those in a solitary behavior phase. Once in this phase, the green locusts turn bright yellow, gain large muscles that equip them for prolonged flight and actively seek the company of other locusts. They can develop into swarms of billions and fly 60 miles (96 km) in five to eight hours in search of food. But when they were injected with serotonin-blocking chemicals, locusts still in their antisocial phase remained calm and did not transform into the swarm phase in response to the leg tickling or presence of a crowd. And when the locusts were injected with chemicals that stimulated serotonin they were transformed into the swarm phase without the stimulus. "Up until now, whilst we knew the stimuli that cause locusts' amazing 'Jekyll and Hyde'-style transformation, nobody had been able to identify the changes in the nervous system that turn antisocial locusts into monstrous swarms," said study co-author Michael Anstey of University of Oxford. "The question of how locusts transform their behavior in this way has puzzled scientists for almost 90 years, now we finally have the evidence to provide an answer." While the discovery "harbors considerable potential" for dealing with the harmful insects, it will not likely to a short-term pest control solution, said Paul Anthony Stevenson of Germany's Leipzig University. "To be effective, antiserotonin-like chemicals would need to be applied when the animals are solitary locusts and scarce targets in vast expanses of desert -- about three locusts per 100 square meters (1,076 sq ft)," Stevenson wrote in an accompanying article. "Current serotonergic drugs are not designed for passing through the insect cuticle and sheath encasing the nervous system, nor are they insect-selective, hence their use is ecologically unjustifiable."
MANILA, Philippines – Iloilo professor Alexis Belonio is the first Filipino to win the prestigious Rolex Award for inventing a stove that converts rice husks into environmentally friendly cooking gas. Founded in 1976, the Rolex Award is given to "visionaries" who have undertaken groundbreaking projects. As an Associate Laureate, Belonio received $50,000 and a steel and gold Rolex chronometer at the awarding ceremony. His invention turns agricultural waste into purified gas in a top-lit, updraft and biomass gas stove. The low-cost stove powered by rice husks--the most abundant of farm wastes--reduces fuel costs and minimizes greenhouse gas. Stoves fueled by rice husks have been used before, but are sooty and unhealthy and do not generate enough heat to cook food quickly. Converting husks to gas provide a much hotter, cleaner flame for cooking--not to mention a cheaper source of energy. A ton of rice husks contains the same energy as 415 liters of petrol or 378 liters of kerosene. A few handfuls of rice husks can boil water in six to nine minutes. Belonio is an associate professor of agricultural engineering at the Central Philippine University in Iloilo City. He intends to use the funds from the award to set up a demonstration center in Iloilo to disseminate free information and to provide training and technical advice about technologies he has developed. Belonio joins nine other awardees from India, Jordan, Mexico, Paraguay, South Africa, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the United States. The 2008 Rolex Awards for Enterprise winners were chosen from nearly 1,500 applicants in 127 countries by an independent panel of scientists, educators, economists and other experts.
By Anna Valmero INQUIRER.net GOVERNMENT agencies and state universities and colleges (SUCs) must align their research and development (R&D) funding efforts, a lawmaker said. Senator Edgardo Angara said this year is a tough time and requires the country's R&D policymakers to limit research priorities to extend the value of limited resources. "We are in the midst of a recession this 2009 and we have a limited R&D budget. Given this, we must spend it wisely and ensure R&D efforts benefit the industry and create jobs," Angara said. This year, the focus of researches include solar and wind energy and vaccine research. In 2007, the country spent $81 million for R&D, or 0.14 percent of GDP, U.S. magazine Science has reported. For this year, Angara said the Congress plans to increase the current budget for R&D. But he did not give details on how much money will be allocated. COMSTE reported at the National R&D Conference in December that Filipino scientists pick their areas of research without coordination with other scientists and institutions. Thus redundant researches were seen during the conference, where many researches focused on biofuel crops, such as sweet sorghum and jathropa. To streamline the allocation of the R&D budget and reduce the occurrence of redundant researches, Angara said a group would soon monitor and integrate all budget spending across departments, agencies and SUCs. Currently, the Department of Science and Technology monitors the national R&D budget. “The challenge is how Filipino scientists and researchers can break cultural roadblocks and be able to coordinate with others on their researches. We know this is not easy but it can be done,” said Angara. “This undertaking requires commitment of all R&D stakeholders to report data accurately and a good IT system in place to analyze data.” Angara also announced during a conference the formation of two R&D institutes. One will focus on the renewable energy with budget coming from fossil fuel levies and another patterned after Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI). Angara said they are still studying if the ITRI model can succeed in the country. ITRI is a contract R&D institute, which acts like a private company and gets contracts from both the government and private sector.
Agence France-Presse SYDNEY -- A sharp slowdown in coral growth on Australia's Great Barrier Reef since 1990 is a warning sign that precipitous changes in the world’s oceans may be imminent, scientists said Friday. Strong evidence points to the cause being a combination of warmer seas and higher acidity from increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, Australian Institute of Marine Science researchers reported. "The data suggest that this severe and sudden decline in calcification is unprecedented in at least 400 years," said Glenn De’ath, principal author of a paper published Friday in the international journal Science. The research shows that corals on the reef have slowed their growth by more than 14 percent since the "tipping point" year of 1990 and on current trends the corals would stop growing altogether by 2050. "It is cause for extreme concern that such changes are already evident, with the relatively modest climate changes observed to date, in the world’s best protected and managed coral reef ecosystem," said co-author Janice Lough. Coral skeletons form the backbone of reef ecosystems and provide the habitat for tens of thousands of plant and animal species and more acidic oceans will affect many sea creatures, not just coral, a statement on the report said. "All calcifying organisms that are central to the function of marine ecosystems and food webs will be affected, and precipitous changes in the biodiversity and productivity of the world’s oceans may be imminent," it added. The findings are based on analyses of annual growth bands -- like rings on trees -- extending back in time up to 400 years. Rising sea temperatures are blamed on global warming caused by the build-up in the atmosphere of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide -- which is also blamed for higher acidity in sea water. A UN report warned in 2007 that the Great Barrier Reef, described as the world's largest living organism, could be killed by climate change within decades. The World Heritage site and major tourist attraction, stretching over more than 345,000 square kilometres (133,000 sq miles) off Australia's east coast, could become "functionally extinct", the report said. The journal Science is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.