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Claro M. Santiago

Dr. Claro M. Santiago: Espousing economic value in research

Dr. Claro M. Santiago, Jr., research consultant (Scientist) at the Department of Science and Technology-Industrial Technology Development Institute (DOST-ITDI) and research director of the Research and Development Center of the University of Perpetual Help System DALTA, contributed vastly to the fields of biology and microbial genetics.

Dr. Claro M. Santiago, Jr., research consultant (Scientist) at the Department of Science and Technology-Industrial Technology Development Institute (DOST-ITDI) and research director of the Research and Development Center of the University of Perpetual Help System DALTA, contributed vastly to the fields of biology and microbial genetics. Primarily famous for his research on mushrooms, his publications and patents focus on gene modification, gene manipulation and technological applications involving plants, fungi, and bacteria protoplasts. 

“The researcher’s work needs to have a promising result, particularly towards commercialization.”

Dr. Santiago received various awards from as early as 1970s including: the Research Award (1972) conferred by the
Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Tropical Biology in Bogor, Indonesia), Outstanding Manilan Award as Scientist-Inventor (1987), Outstanding Microbiologist Award (1993) conferred by the Philippine Society for Microbiology, Inc., and Lifetime Achievement Award in Biological Sciences (2006) conferred by the DOST-National Research Council of the Philippines, among others.

In a face-to-face interview with Dr. Santiago, a molecular geneticist, the scientist-inventor recounted to S&T Post how his journey as a Philippine Man of Science began.

The Path
Bachelor of Science, University of the East
Bachelor of Arts, University of the East
Bachelor of Science in Education, University of the East
Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences, University of the East
Master of Science, Major in Biological Sciences, University of Santo Tomas (Benemeritus)
Doctor of Philosophy, Major in Microbial Genetics, Nottingham University, England
No. of Publication/s: 60
No. of Patent/s: 1

What began as a fascination for life and living things led Dr. Santiago to concentrate on biology. Still, the road to success is never
walked alone. His continuous education with mentors, colleagues, and understudies, plus the resourceful ability to create something out of something, is what made Dr. Claro M. Santiago, Jr. into who he is today. Working at DOST, or what was then known as the National Institute of Science and Technology, since 1973, Dr. Santiago was able to pursue higher education, receive
research grants, and file invention patents.

He had a different idea during his youth on what he wanted to become in life. In the beginning, he intended to become a medical
doctor. Yet upon completing his academic professions of four Bachelor degrees at a continuous pace, he realized that his interest
for medical science faded. Then it happened. Dr. Santiago followed the rigorous path of biology and specialized in microbial genetics - the study of hereditary functions of bacteria and other microorganisms.

Researcher at a glance
While he was studying at Nottingham University in England, he got involved with the study on Dolly the sheep that was cloned
from an adult sheep cell. His professor, John Peberdy, was already into cloning research at the time and he was friends with Professor Ian Wilmut. The latter, based in the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, was then working on the Dolly research. There were times when Dr. Santiago and other researchers prepared reagents for the study to be sent to Edinburgh for the research.

Dr. Claro M. Santiago describes how he honed his research upon returning to the Philippines.

A scholar himself, Dr. Santiago understands how scholars have a different outlook in life. Scholars want progress and they use technology, he said. Soon enough, Dr. Santiago returned home and concentrated on the practical applications of research in the Philippines.

In 1986, he was recognized by the Philippine Invention Development Institute for his creative research on fabricated equipment for the production of agar-agar, a jelly-like substance from algae. Agar-agar is a type of media or food source commonly used in growing microorganisms. It is also useful in cooking and baking food.

In 1987, he received the special prize from DOST for outstanding research award for applied research on anaerobic treatment of sugar wastewater using a granular bed up-flow anaerobic sludge blanket reactor. Sugar wastewaters have a high pollution
load that needs to be treated if it is to return into the environment. Dr. Santiago explored anaerobic treatment technology where
microorganisms can reduce organic materials in the wastewater without using oxygen.

In 1989, he bagged second prize for the outstanding research award for genetic improvement of straw mushroom (Volvariella volvacea [Bull. Ex.] Singer) by somatic cell fusion. Straw mushrooms, locally known as kabuteng saging, are soft and large, and they grow in warm weather. Santiago’s research led to the development of an improved hybrid product out of straw mushroom and Agaricus mushroom (Agaricus bisporis, or Baguio mushroom) using genetic engineering techniques that do not require expensive enzymes. Baguio mushrooms are durable and delicious, but these have thick texture, are small, and will only grow in a colder temperature. Through genetic engineering, the best traits of Baguio and straw mushrooms resulted in a very good mushroom variety.

In 2005, Santiago received from the Technology Application and Promotion Institute the first prize for creative research on the production of high temperature Baguio mushroom. 

Then in 2007, he patented the utility model for the production of non-woven medical bandage from microfungal fibers. And in 2009, he received from DOST the first prize for the utility model category on the production of medical bandage from mushroom mycelium.

Today, Dr. Santiago continues to do research on genetic engineering, hoping that his works and patent applications will find
their way to intended users.

What it takes to be a man of science
Dr. Santiago recognizes that being a “man of science” is a prestigious title accorded only to members of a scientific community.
The title brings pride in oneself and in one’s community or organization. To be a man of science, said Santiago, “it takes the scientist and the community.”

“When one is a part of the community, one carries the community’s reputation with oneself. The scientist and the community
build their names together,” he explained.

Advice to researchers
For researchers who want to hone their research in the Philippines, Dr. Santiago advises that their research needs to have practical and useful applications. The researcher’s work needs to have a promising result, particularly towards commercialization. The research should have an economic value, or an attainable potential outcome from the research activity. Since research in the Philippines are sustained by existing resources and technology, a researcher can, for example, find ways to improve living conditions here.

Vision for Fiipinos
Dr. Santiago believes in sustained idealism. He believes that we have to face that the Philippines is yet a developing country. This is a Third World country where idealism comes rare, he said. “Idealism should be found in the nation’s children, developed in youth, and carried on throughout adulthood. An idealism equipped with nationalism to help its own country will be able to achieve prosperity,” he added.

Santiago likewise said that one can consider prosperity through this nation’s environment. “The nation needs something
with economic value for prosperity,” he said. “Once the nation increases the breadth of prosperity, whatever past problems
connected to prosperity can be eliminated.”

This man of science believes in discipline, acknowledging that it involves maintaining peace and order. 

“Enforce discipline and keep your nation away from hunger,” he challenged. He cited Singapore as an example—it has “discipline
and a healthy sense of fear; the people obey their laws.” Once in place, good peace and order will help solve the problem of
hesitation of foreign investors to invest in the Philippines, he said.

When it comes to tangible investments, Santiago has the firm belief that the nation can help itself by focusing on manufacturing
industries. Santiago observed that foreign investors like America and Japan stay in Vietnam for example because “the Vietnamese are behaved.” The Vietnamese nationalism and drive to work for their country enabled the country to achieve its desired results in manufacturing.

Dr. Santiago likewise believes in supporting proper education and training. “Training begins at home,” he said. “It readily molds children on the way they should go. Then, their education is nurtured as the right inclination is combined with pursuing an ambition or interest on a particular discipline they love. Training is a result of teamwork within the capacity of the family, of parents and children when it comes to supporting education.” 

He also gives importance in improving the financial security of households. “Education is possible when livelihood and stable jobs
are available for the people. Train them, empower them with capital, and then ensure that the livelihood capital is used properly, not used in vices, “ he advised.

Behind the Name
Name Origin/Meaning: Inherited from his father
Nicknames: Junior, Jun, Claro
Hometown: Born in Singalong, Manila; 
childhood spent in Marinduque, then returned to Manila
Favorite Color: Cream or White
Favorite Food: Vegetables (green leafy vegetables like petchay, mustasa, lettuce), and fruits
Hobbies: Exercise/Jogging, though not much into athletic activities
Faith: Catholic
Life Motto: “I have to strive very hard.”

Santiago grew up in the province and he appreciated it because he was exposed to the provincial way of living, which, he said, was characterized by appreciation for living things, which was as natural as their calm lifestyle.

Today, Dr. Santiago stays fit by jogging for an hour for at least thrice a week. He jogs in the evening during weekdays after work and in the morning on weekends, near an Italian church in Parañaque.

-S&T Post, Vol. XXXIII, 3rd Quarter 2015

Interviewed by: Haziel May C. Natorilla, S&T Media Service, DOST-STII