Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Thomas Edison E. dela Cruz, faculty researcher of the Department of Biological Sciences of the College of Science, received the highest award conferred by the Philippine Society of Microbiology in ceremonies held in Clark Marriot Hotel from July 18-19, 2019.

Dela Cruz was feted with the Outstanding Microbiologist Award “for his exemplary research contributions to the field of microbiology, particularly on mycology, and his outstanding dedication to the promotion of microbiology in the country.”

This recognition is the latest feather on Dela Cruz’s cap, who is the 2015 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Teacher (Tertiary Level), a 2014 The World Academy of Science Young Scientist prize winner, and 2012 National Academy of Science and Technology Outstanding Young Scientist in the field of Mycology.

A well-decorated educator and scientist
Dela Cruz’s researches in mycology focus on fungal biodiversity, systematics, and ecogenomics, and on fungal natural products, ethnomycology and microbiology education. His work led to documenting Philippine fungal diversity and providing insights to the systematics and ecological patterns of fungi; discovery of fungi with bioactive secondary metabolites and extracellular enzymes for bioremediation applications; and the development of photoguides and learning materials for kids for the promotion of science and biodiversity conservation awareness.

Of these many accomplishments, Dela Cruz highlighted that in a span of ten years spent researching slime molds, he and his team were able to “increase the number of myxomycetes recorded in the Philippines, from 107 to 158.” True to his nature of being an educator, Dela Cruz and his group also published two comic booklets that introduce fungi to kids “in an effort to entice them to learn about these microorganisms.”

The work continues
Dela Cruz has continued his work on taxonomical and ecological researches of fungi and their potentials for drug discovery. Recently, however, his interest was also captured by the “impacts of man-made disturbances (habitat degradation) and natural disasters (typhoons, volcanic activities, etc.) to the communities of fungi, with slime molds as model organisms.” He also began using metabarcoding to study fungal communities in canopy and ground forest soils in the country.

The academic son looks back to his academic parents
In an interview with the University’s Communications Bureau, Dela Cruz thanked his mentors, namely Prof. Dr. Irineo J. Dogma, Jr., “my mentor, my academic father, and my thesis adviser for my undergraduate research study at the College of Science.” Dela Cruz heaped praises on Dogma by underscoring how it was the latter who taught him “how to write and present scientific papers and to be analytical, critical, and meticulous in my research.” Dela Cruz likewise thanked his three “academic mothers,” Prof. Corazon A. Menguito, PhD (master’s thesis adviser); Dr. Barbra Schulz (dissertation adviser), and Academician Asuncion K. Raymundo (mentor in the professional circle of Filipino microbiologists). From Menguito, he learned “how to be an effective adviser,” while Schulz taught him “the traits of being an independent researcher.” Finally, it was Raymundo who, through her example, “taught me how to be of better service to the Filipino community.”

Focusing on aspiring microbiologists and those who are just starting, the 2019 PSM Outstanding Microbiologists highlighted the importance of blending faith and action: “that through prayer, perseverance and hardwork, you will be able to achieve your goals. It is also important to love what you are doing. By keeping your passion burning and your faith in God strong, you can overcome any challenges.”

Photo Credits: Dr. Mark Angelo V. Ngu