UP alumnus and New York University Dean of Science Michael Purugganan graced the founding anniversary celebrations of the Institute of Biology with a lecture about his research interest, genomics and the evolution of plant biodiversity, on February 1, 2015 at the institute’s auditorium in the National Science Complex, UP Diliman.
Notable in his research is a focus on Philippine species, such as rice and rafflesia, which according to Purugganan, allows him to come back to the Philippines and touch base with UP from which he graduated in 1985.
Rice happens to be an example of a domesticated species, which he said provide models of evolution. The recent evolution of domesticated species is more easily traceable through markers in the genes, Purugganan added.
Crop domestication began only about 12,000 years ago, he said. In the relatively short time in evolutionary history, they have evolved very fast, turning up very different from their wild ancestors.
“We hope our research is helpful to breeders,” Purugganan stressed. “What’s driving a lot of our research now is [to pursue] climate change adaptability [of crops such as rice],” he added.
Purugganan’s findings on Philippine rafflesia biodiversity also drew curiosity, particularly about its not having the chloroplast genome. It may be just one of two species of plant without it, he said. Members of the audience presented theories about it, including possible explanation from its symbiosis with its host vine. The plant’s other mysteries include how it is transferred from one vine to another.
In her message after the lecture, Vice President for Academic Affairs commended Purugganan for initiating projects with UP experts. She also mentioned his advocacy of genomics. She remembered Purugganan as a Collegian features editor and activist.