Meet Edwin Alcantara, PhD, Newton Fund Institutional Links Grant awardee.

Research topic: Assessing chemical and genetic diversity of Philippine microbes for discovery of novel natural products with applications in medicine and agriculture

Host institution / UK university: University of Warwick

Home institution: University of the Philippines Los Banos

What is your proposed research topic/title of your collaboration?

Dr. Edwin Alcantara of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (BIOTECH) University of the Philippines, Los Baños (UPLB) is currently engaged in a research collaboration with Professor Greg Challis at the Department of Chemistry University of Warwick. The objective of the collaboration is to assess the potential of microbes native to the Philippines to produce novel natural products with promising antimicrobial or crop protection activity. 

What is the relevance of your research to the Philippines’ economic development and/or social welfare?

The first twelve months of project implementation is focused on chemical profiling of potential novel antimicrobial and insecticidal compounds produced by Actinobacteria collection of BIOTECH.  Samples of crude extracts prepared from microbial isolates were sent to the University of Warwick for chemical analysis. The analysis revealed that some of the microbial isolates produce interesting compounds. At the same time, local research collaboration with Dela Salle University has resulted to the discovery of a few actinobacteria strains that produce compounds highly insecticidal to the cacao insect pest, Helopeltis bakeri. A seminar and  mini-symposium was held last year at UPLB and UP Diliman, respectively to promote the importance of microbial natural products research in human health and agriculture.

Taken together, the first year of the collaboration has improved the research capacity of Philippine researchers by acquisition of new laboratory equipment and sharing of research protocols by UoW counterpart. 

How will your UK collaboration contribute to your home institution’s research goals?

The collaboration with UoW came at the time when technical assistance from an expert natural products chemist is needed to strengthen the newly established Biotechnology for Natural Products Program at BIOTECH-UPLB. With the opportunity now available, UPLB could send a junior researcher to UoW to acquire hands-on training on research techniques essential to understand and exploit the properties of our microbial collection. As the present study is just the exploratory phase, we intend to continue the collaboration with UoW to realize the strategic project goals with further collaborative research projects. The plan that will be developed from promising research leads generated by the 2-year collaboration are as follows: 1) further characterization of newly discovered compounds from our microbial collection, 2) unlocking the potential of selected microbial strains to produce new compounds, and 3) selection of microbial strains for further study of its genetic makeup.

What about the UK influenced your decision to collaborate with your partner institution?

The Biotechnology for Natural Products Program is a relatively new research initiative at BIOTECH-UPLB. To gain traction, the Program needs to provide training of its staff on the latest experimental techniques needed to conduct in-depth research on our microbial collection. My decision to go ahead with the collaboration with UoW was based on the fact that our UK collaborator is one of the pioneering experts in microbial natural products research from whom we could seek expert advice to accelerate the pace of our natural products research on our microbial collection. Research data that will be gathered from the collaboration will help guide the direction for future research in the Program.