Entomology in the Time of COVID-19 – Part 2: Can mosquitoes spread SARS-CoV-2?

In Part 1 of this series, I posed the question: Can insects spread SARS-CoV-2? As I have mentioned there, that question is difficult to answer at present. First, SARS-CoV-2 is new to us. In fact, its original tentative name was nCoV, for novel coronavirus. Needless to say, science is still investigating all its angles, and fortunately, developments are relatively rapid particularly in the most urgent aspects. Second, there are no efforts yet on detecting and documenting the occurrence and viability of the virus particles on hosts other than humans, bats, and pangolins and on certain surfaces like plastics, fabric and metals. Most of the existing articles on the topic are speculative and largely leaning to enticement of clients to patronize pest control services. Under the present economic situation, pest control would be a good part of sanitation but could not be a priority for most people.

This attempt to give answers also aims to help lessen people’s worries so that they may concentrate on the more salient measures to help ‘flatten the curve.’ The answers here are tentative, but the good thing is, they are from the viewpoint of an entomologist – a person who studies insects. The bases of the answers given below are general knowledge on the biology of these insects, their known roles and behaviors in relation to spread of communicable diseases, and the available, albeit limited, data on incidence of the virus in clinical samples. These answers are also admittedly largely speculative but effort is made to provide statements of hypotheses. These hypotheses may be or, rather, need to be tested and supported with empirical evidence hopefully by a team – at least an entomologist, a medical epidemiologist, and a molecular biologist-virologist.

So let us see, the mosquitoes first

At least three species of mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti (L.), Aedes albopictus (Skuse), and Culex spp., are among blood-sucking insects known to be vectors of human disease-causing viruses. Aedes species are carriers of dengue, zika, and chikungungya viruses while Culex species are known to transmit Japanese encephalitis virus. The other well-known medically important mosquitoes are Anopheles spp., vectors of Plasmodium spp. that cause malaria, and various species that can carry filarial parasites.

For mosquito vectors to be able to spread viruses, the pathogen must be highly present in the host’s blood. The details of this will be discussed in Part 3 of this series. In the meantime, let us examine what is currently the known incidences of positive detection of SARS-CoV-2 in clinical samples as provided by Wang et al. (2020), thus:

Based on their data, only one percent of blood samples tested positive for the coronavirus. Although this indicates that the viral infection may be systemic, the low positivity rate for blood samples may also suggest, but not automatically, low possibility of transmission through the blood and by inference, low possibility of blood-sucking mosquitoes becoming vectors. However, this is still a hypotheses, and it requires confirmation with molecular evidence.

One of the dengue mosquitoes, Aedes albopictus – this one has just emerged from its pupa. Photo credits: Cristian C. Lucañas

Jun Lit (Ireneo L. Lit, Jr.)

Entomolohiya sa Panahon ng COVID-19 – Unang Bahagi: Maikakalat ba ng mga insekto ang SARS-CoV-2?

Paunawa: Minabuti ko pong ihiwalay itong bersyong Tagalog doon sa nauna kong sinulat sa Ingles.

Ang mundo kung saan tayo ipinanganak at kung saan tayo, sa kabutihang palad, ay buháy at patuloy pa ring nabubuhay, ay binabago ng isang bayrus (o virus) na mas malaki kung ikukumpara sa iba pang mga bayrus. Ang buong pangalan nito sa siyensya ay Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Ang pinaikling tawag dito o kumbaga sa tao, palayaw, ay SARS-CoV-2, tugma naman sa sakit na dulot nito na kilala sa Ingles bilang coronavirus disease 2019 o ang COVID-19, na kung minsan ay tinatawag ding China virus o Wuhan virus. Ang sukat nito ay 50-200 nanometro (nm). Ang isang nanometro ay isang ika-sambilyong bahagi ng isang metro. Iyong bayrus na sanhi ng naunang SARS o severe acute respiratory syndrome na kumalat nang pasambulat sa buong daigdig noong 2002 hanggang 2004 ay may sukat na 80-90 nm at itinuturing na ibang lahiay (o strain) ng parehong sarihay (o species) ng bayrus.

Katulad ng iba pang mga bayrus, ang SARS-CoV-2 ay di-buháy. Ganunpaman, sa oras na makapasok ito sa loob ng mga sihay (cells) ng host, mistulang nagiging bihag nito ang mga makinaryang molekular ng napasukang sihay at tila nag-aasal na may búhay ang bayrus. Sinasakop ng bayrus ang mga dating normal na proseso ng pagkopya, pagtalâ at pagsasalin ng kamani (o gene) na maaaring DNA o RNA. Samakatuwid, pangunahing susi sa paglaban sa COVID-19 ay ang mapigilan ang pagpasok ng bayrus na SARS-CoV-2 sa loob ng mga katawan at mga sanugnayan ng mga bahaging panloob (internal organ systems) ng mga tao.

Kasado na at ipinapatupad na ang mga hakbang upang pigilan ang pagkalat ng bayrus na ito sa loob ng mga pamayanan. Datapuwa’t, may mga seryosong katanungan kaugnay ng mga lokal na kondisyon, partikular na sa loob at paligid ng mga komunidad ng mga maralitang tagalunsod. Una ay ang kasikipan at pagkakadikit-dikit, isang bagay na hindi maiiwasan sa mga lubhang mataong pamayanan. Ang isa pa ay ang mas mataas na populasyon ng mga pesteng insekto o kulisap sa mga pamamahay at karatig na lugar, na dulot na rin ng sari-saring gawain o aktibidad ng mga tao roon. Dahil hindi na maiiwasan o maitatanggi ang ganitong kalagayan ng kapaligiran sa mga naturang lugar, hindi iilan ang mga nagtanong: Maaari bang maikalat o maisalin ng mga insekto ang salot na bayrus na ito? May batayan ang mga ganitong pag-aala-ala dahil alam na ng mga tao na may mga kulisap tulad ng mga lamok na nagdadala ng mga sakit at ang iba namang peste ay nakakapagpakalat ng mga mikrobyong nagdudulot ng sari-saring karamdaman.

Sa ngayon ay mahirap sagutin ang tanong na “Maikakalat ba ng mga insekto ang SARS-CoV-2?” Bago sa ating lahat ang SARS-CoV-2. Magkagayon man, malinaw na may pangangailangan masagot ang ganitong mga katanungan, upang mabawasan kahit paano ang marami ng alalahanin ng mga tao at upang lubusang maituon nila ang pansin at pagkilos sa mga kagyat at pinakamahahalagang hakbang para mapabagal ang pabulusok na pagdami ng mga nagkakasakit ng COVID-19. Sa seryeng ito, pagsisikapan nating sagutin ang katanungang ito at mga kaugnay na isyu, kahit mga pansamantalang kasagutan muna, mula sa pananaw ng isang dalubkulisap o entomologist.

Nawa’y basahin ninyo ang mga paliwanag sa seryeng ito sa mga susunod na araw. Salamat po.

Jun Lit (Ireneo L. Lit, Jr.)

Entomology in the Time of COVID-19 – Part 1: Can insects spread SARS-CoV-2?

The virus that is changing the world where we were born and are now, so far, luckily still alive and living in, is a relatively large particle, that is, compared to other viruses. Its full scientific name as a virus is Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The convenient acronym is SARS-CoV-2, matching that of the disease it causes, coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19, sometimes known by its other popular names China virus or Wuhan virus. Its size ranges from 50-200 nanometers. The one that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) which had an outbreak in 2002-2004 ranges from 80-90 nm and is considered a different strain of the same virus species.

Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 is non-living. However, once it is able to go inside the cells of its host, the cells’ molecular machineries are effectively hostaged and the virus particles behave as if living. The virus takes over the otherwise routine processes of gene replication, transcription and translation. The major key, therefore, to combat COVID-19 is to prevent entry of SARS-CoV-2 into the bodies and organ systems of humans. 

Measures to arrest community transmission of the virus are already being implemented. However, serious concerns have been raised about the local conditions particularly within and in the vicinity of urban poor communities. One is the congestion, something that is inevitable in densely populated human settlements. The other is the relatively higher incidence of urban or domiciliary insect pests, a consequence of human activities therein. Realizing this “given” urban environmental conditions, not a few have asked questions: Can insects transmit or help spread the dreaded virus? These concerns are valid because people are now aware that insects like mosquitoes are vectors of deadly diseases while other pests associated with filth and human wastes can harbor pathogenic microorganisms.

The question of whether insects can spread SARS-CoV-2 or not, is difficult to answer at present. SARS-CoV-2 is new to us. Yet, obviously, there is a need to give answers to lessen people’s worries so that they may concentrate on the more salient measures to help ‘flatten the curve.’ In this series, we will attempt to provide some answers, albeit tentative, from the viewpoint of an entomologist.

I hope you’ll read this series in the coming days. Thank you.

Jun Lit (Ireneo L. Lit, Jr.)

Nalakdawan ng Lockdown [Skipped by Lockdown]

Dedicated to the memory of Filipino doctor-heroes – among them Dr. Salvacion “Sally” Rodriguez Gatchalian, Israel Bactol, Marcelo Jaochico, Greg Macasaet, Raul Jara, Rose Pulido, et al. and the rest of the health warriors fighting at frontlines – medical doctors, nurses, medical technologists, and other health workers who are risking their lives in this war where we don’t and can’t see the enemy – Coronavirus and the disease it causes – COVID-19.

Love in the Covidocene

I thought I’d start writing a story with the title “Love in the Time of COVID19” but somebody else has done that when I searched through Google, although I haven’t seen or read that yet. It would have been a way of honoring an author, a Nobel laureate, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who wrote “Love in the Time of Cholera.” I ended up writing a free verse and used instead “Covidocene” following the present epoch acknowledged as the Anthropocene, when lots of human-made disasters occur, foremost of them the current Climate Change events. I was almost tempted to use “Wuhan Virus Era.” That would have been an accurate way of attributing its origin to Wuhan, China.

My guess is that this time of our lives, that supposedly started in 2019, actually began much earlier, and it will possibly, nay probably, last long, and the changes it will cause on the way we view things, and the way we deal with our loved ones, friends, colleagues, workmates, and others in our local societies, as well as our appreciation or diminished respect for national governments, and relationships among nations and peoples of the world will be really great. It will not be the same after all these, pandemic and pandemonium, are over.

Today, 21 March 2020, UNESCO’s declared World Poetry Day, I wished I could have written a piece in Tagalog (not Filipino), my mother tongue, but unconsciously, thoughts flowed more freely in English. And so here it is.

Love in the Covidocene can also be accessed through: https://hellopoetry.com/poem/3768509/love-in-the-covidocene/

COVID19 Crisis – Some Thoughts [Krisis COVID19 – Mga Ilang Kaisipan]

At the beginning of the term of the incumbent government, and in the midst of the present COVID19 crisis, particularly in our country, the Philippines, we often hear those who govern us, as well as their supporters, invectives and all sorts of blame and tirades targeting the supposed oligarchs. However, if we look at their present programs and plans (if there are any) and actual actions, policies and executive issuances, the anti-oligarch stance is nothing but propaganda, if not plain lip service. The poor, often used as excuse or justification to capture funds, are mere abstractions, it seems. At best, figments of their imagination or fictional characters in fairy tales. Who are the poor and what is poverty? It would take more than a book or may be more than one semester of a full college course to fully explain who they are. The utter disregard for the homeless, the lowest of the low-income, daily wage, hand-to-mouth, and other subsistence earners, those on no-work-no-pay schemes, all demonstrate an interwoven lack of grasp, indifference, and genuine concern for what doctrines have addressed ‘the least of our brethren.’

What can we expect from politicians and bureaucrats who are detached from social realities and ignorant, if not totally devoid, of scientific and functional literacy? A crisis like this is like purifying precious metals – we now see that most of them are only after enriching themselves and their pockets. What gives us hope are the few who still shine and prove to be gold – nuggets in a mountain of trash. We will survive and I hope our people learn the most important, the most essential lessons.

[Sa simula pa lamang ng termino ng nakaluklok na pamahalaan at sa kalagitnaan ng kasalukuyang krisis ng COVID19, lalo na sa ating bansang Pilipinas, malimit nating naririnig mula sa mga nanunungkulan at kanilang mga taga-suporta ang mga maaanghang na salita, paninisi at sari-saring tirada sa mga kabilang sa oligarkiya. Subalit kung titingnan at susuriin ang mga programa at plano (kung meron man) at mga totoong galaw, polisiya, patakaran at mga kautusan, ang kontra-oligarkiyang asta ay kitang-kitang walang iba kundi propaganda, kung hindi man, pabalat-bunga o konswelo-de-bobo. Ang mga mahihirap, na laging ginagamit bilang dahilan o sangkalan para makakuha ng bultu-bultong pondo, ay pawang abstrakto o konseptong nasa alapaap at mahirap unawain. Sa sukdulan, tila kathang-isip ang kahirapan o mga tau-tauhan sa mga alamat o kwentong bayan lamang ang mga mahihirap. Sino nga ba ang mga mahihirap at ano ang kahirapan? Kulang ang isang aklat o kaya’y isang buong kursong pangkolehiyo sa loob ng isang semestre upang maipaliwanag kung sino o ano nga ba sila. Ang hindi pagsasa-alang-alang ng mga walang tahanan, ng mga pinakamababa ang kita, mga arawang kita, mga isang-kahig-isang-tuka, yaong pag hindi nagtrabaho ng isang araw ay walang iuuwing pambili ng pagkain – ay pawang nagpapatunay ng isang masalimuot na kawalan ng paggagap, ng kawalang-pakialam, at kawalan ng tunay na malasakit sa mga sinasabing ng mga kasulatan na ‘pinakamaliliit sa ating mga kapatid.’

Anong maaasahan natin sa mga pulitiko at burukratang hindi maka-ugnay sa mga katotohanan sa lipunan at mangmang, kung hindi man, hungkag sa kaalaman’t pang-unawang siyentipiko at mapanuri’t mapanlikha? Ang isang krisis na tulad nito ay katulad ng pagdadalisay ng mahal na mga metal – nakikita natin ngayon na karamihan sa kanila’y walang ibang hangarin kundi payamanin ang sarili nila’t kanilang mga bulsa. Ang tanging nagbibigay sa atin ng pag-asa ay ang iilan na kumikinang pa rin at napapatunayan nating mga piraso ng ginto – mga butil sa bundok ng basura. Malalampasan natin ito at umaasa akong matututunan ng sambayanan ang mga pinakamahalaga at pinakamakatuturang leksiyon.]

Sick Poems

I have never imagined writing poems seemingly inspired by disease. I, myself, was surprised that I wrote one last year (February 2019) at the height of the dengue and Dengvaxia controversy. I thought that would be the first and the last. But here I am again, and I tried to express my musings, doubts, apprehensions – all a mixture of thoughts and emotions – on the worldwide outbreak and confirmed local transmission of the Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, which causes the disease now more popularly referred to as COVID19. How I detest the way our health and other problems are being handled. How I wish leaders viewed things holistically – that health problems are intricately connected with population issues, education, environmental problems, governance, etc. People may be able to read and write and count but not everyone can see how things are connected.

Is this my way of de-stressing? Perhaps, it is. And so I am reprinting them together here.

Both have been uploaded in Hello Poetry. [https://hellopoetry.com/poem/2921866/sick-poems-i/ and https://hellopoetry.com/poem/3759129/sick-poems-ii/%5D

At a minute past midnight tonight (15 March 2020, 00:01H), the lockdown of Metropolitan Manila – the Philippines’ most densely populated region – takes effect.

I am afraid, I am sad, I am angry.

Sick Poems – I

Finding poetry in a disease
is like looking for a nugget
of gold in one Smokey Mountain
of revolting, rotting rubbish.

A poem is precious.
It breathes us life.
Even one about death
brings hope of imagined
heavens and dreads of
eternal incomplete combustion,
but dengue sucks dry
its hapless victims.

Baby mossies
are cheering,
today, detritus feeding . . .
Tomorrow, the girls among them turning
into little vampires blood feeding;
and the boys will have for drinking
plant juices like wines brewing.
Rightly or not, the winged being
receives much of the blame, poor thing!

The greater pain, the bigger burden,
felt greatly by the downtrodden,
however, lies not so much in the bitten
nor the biter – always the villain.

When those whose tasks are meant to serve,
serve not the ones who need, but only themselves
When solicitors utter Hippocratic mantras
Like gurus descended from Oriental Olympuses
but in truth are Proud Marys burning with empty heads . . .

And when the multitudes blind and blinded,
in Plato’s Cave chained, demented
faithfully follow the falsehoods preached
by the High Priests and Priestesses:
I recall the scenarios of old tales told
of Pied Pipers leading kids out of Hamelin’s fold
to a treacherous realm of eternal repose.

And a nation’s bound to decompose.

Sick Poems – II

Could writing a poem
inspired by a disease
be or become a crime?
How absurd is it
to find inspiration
out of a dreaded virus?

The emperor rudely wears indecent robes
worse than the legendary one without clothes,
more distorted than a crippled plastic ware
deformed by immoral, pretentious heat.

Incoherent recitations of tongues,
chants but not the solemn Gregorian
Pretenses at smartness of the ignorant
And all worshippers continue to be blind
Defending their King as they the headless
chess pieces are pawned,
fiercely loyally they guard their golden calf,
and all protesting Moseses, the King’s men
painted with the yellow mark of wrath.

This nation’s bound to decompose –
of mountains of unpaid and unpayable debts,
of liars who have made lies the accepted truth
of gospels preached that are none but rotten fruit
of thieves and shameless robbers who lead
of nation’s coffers they bleed
of blind beggars who follow
of multitudes numb with sorrow
of misfortunes often told and retold
And all our souls to the devil’s sold.

No Davids to rise and fight the Goliaths as told
The candle in this dimly lit room refuses to turn cold
The candle burns out soon, as history’s last page does unfold.

-Ireneo L. Lit, Jr. (Jun Lit)

Forever Grateful: My Journey To and Through Teaching Biology

I have written this to put down my thoughts and feelings on my receipt of the 2020 UPLB Outstanding Teacher Award (OTA) in the Biological Sciences. I have presumed that because of the recognition, my readers, probably mostly my friends, would be like a supportive crowd in a theatre or hall. I actually consider opportunities to post an essay on my page for readers, like you, about one’s thoughts as well as feelings, particularly on personal achievements, as rather rare. In the millennial lingo, younger friends would say, “moment ko na ‘to.

To receive an Oblation statuette for teaching is a great bonus because I was just doing what to me is what every teacher should do – facilitate learning. To receive an Oblation statuette along with the monetary reward is more than a dream come true, for I only wanted to teach. I have always wanted to teach. Hence, to receive awards for teaching, including that from my home college, the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), last November, is really more than what I wanted. Pardon me for being redundant, repetitive. To me, I was just doing what I enjoy doing, and what is expected of a teacher.

Mine is perhaps one of the few unique situations in the University, having gone through all sectors – as an administrative staff – a Research Aide at the then Department of Life Sciences, hired even before I finished my BSA major in Entomology, to being REPS for more than 20 years, and as a full time member of the Faculty for the last 15 years; and being affiliated with three other colleges/schools in UPLB aside from CAS and one in Diliman. In between those, a few years have also been spent as a middle-level administrator, particularly as Director of the UPLB Museum of Natural History from 2006-2015. Indeed, the road I traversed and still am traversing, was and is one that has been challenging, oftentimes rough and winding.

The first opportunity to teach came to me when as a Research Assistant III (later retitled University Research Associate I) in the UPLB MNH Entomological Museum, I was requested to handle two laboratory sections of Crop Protection 1 at the then Department of Entomology (at the then College of Agriculture), because the teacher who was assigned to teach the two sections had an unexpected illness. That was in 1992. The next chance was in 2003 when I was already a researcher under a University Extension Specialist III item, still at the MNH, when colleagues at the UPLB Institute of Biological Sciences (IBS, under the College of Arts and Sciences) invited me to team teach an RGEP course, NASC 5 (Environmental Biology). To cut short the story, I became a full-time faculty in 2005 at the Department of Forest Biological Sciences (or FBS, under the College of Forestry and Natural Resources) handling courses in Forest Entomology, Forest Ecology etc. but still handling NASC 5. Eventually I transferred to IBS in 2008. And in the IBS, I stayed. IBS gave me the home I need, the chance to teach courses and talk about subject matters I love – evolutionary biology, ecology, systematics, biogeography, conservation biology while still allowing me to participate in teaching-learning activities at the FBS, Entomology Department, School of Environmental Science and Management, and at the Institute of Biology in UP Diliman. Thank you IBS and CAS!

Inspirations came, have come, and are still coming from several people. The late Professor Leo C. Rimando, a systematist, an entomologist and acarologist, the founder of the BS Biology Program in UPLB, was the teacher of best teachers, an artist and a scientist, an educator par excellence. To this day, his voice still reverberates in my mind and among his many memorable words, “Think of every lecture as your last, the greatest performance of your life.” And “Imagine the lecture hall or laboratory room as a theater stage, and you, the teacher, the lead actor, the visual aids, the chalkboard are just the props, and your audience, your students, should be able to get the message through your delivery.” Aside from Professor Rimando, I was also lucky to have been a student of OTAs like my adviser Dr. Venus J. Calilung, in my basic biology and genetics courses, Prof. Ivan Marcelo A. Duka, Dr. Merlyn S. Mendioro, Dr. Adelina A. Barrion, in Mathematics and Statistics by Prof. Rolando G. Panopio, in Chemistry by Dr. Ma. Cristina D. Padolina and in my chosen field, by those who we call the masters – Dr. Leonila Corpuz-Raros, again Dr. Calilung, Dr. Clare R. Baltazar, Dr. Victor P. Gapud, Dr. Benito C. Tan, et al. They all collectively gave me the image of the teacher that I wanted to be.

The great Professor Leo C. Rimando, Father of Philippine Acarology – scientist, educator, artist  – who founded the BS Biology Program in UPLB and was trainor of the best teachers. He was my teacher in Economic Acarology and I would always be mesmerized by his eloquence in both English and Filipino. In the laboratory part of the course, he would play records (tapes) of classical music, among them, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and several of Tchaikovsky’s and Rachmaninov’s compositions, while we were busy looking at mites through our compound microscopes. [Photo Credits to ARTIST, Inc.]

On the other side of all these, my students and advisees, as well as my colleagues (who also include OTAs), provided the much needed feedback. Like many UP faculty, I didn’t have formal courses in education. When asked by a colleague what my teaching philosophy was, I couldn’t answer right away. In my mind and in my heart, I’m just a teacher who enjoys teaching and learning, that’s why I also want my students to enjoy while learning. All that I had was what I learned in Speech and the rest of the basic communication arts – the rules and principles that govern – the flow of knowledge and information. – Source-Message-Channel-Audience. I was sort of ‘playing the piano by ear.’ And I am so glad that I made ‘good music,’ so to speak. Teaching is really never a one-way process – I learned a lot from my students and I am happy that they too learned from me.

In many instances, my students would comment that there were times they thought I was just telling a story or stories about my nature treks, adventures in the field, anecdotes in the lab and so on, or what I read somewhere or published in this or that journal. Animated – that’s what they would say, and in retrospect, I would probably agree. Teaching was one of my ways of sharing the outputs of my research and I feel lucky that my field of study involves not only laboratory and museum work but also, and more importantly, fieldwork. Research, indeed, strengthens instruction as I have personally experienced and with it cultivates the ability to communicate at all levels – from peers through publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals, to one’s students through instruction, and to the wider community through extension, science-based advocacy and information service and genuinely concerned public service. In another venue, I wrote: “I have always viewed University teaching as inseparable and inextricably connected with research. One always supports and fortifies the other and both are functionally linked with public service.

Along this journey, I could not have survived and been able to hold on without people whose help made every step easier. Friends, colleagues, supportive superiors, cooperative staff, highly-skilled technicians, fellow field biologists, even guides and porters, as well as inspired and inspiring students – they all made all the ascents and descents, bearable, memorable, and enjoyable.

Above all, UP gave me and has always given all of us, what other teachers and students could not enjoy. We all cherish, we all treasure, we all savor that singular icon that allows us to think freely, to speak our minds out, to teach the way we want to each within the bounds of honor and excellence, to reach for the heights of abilities, and to dig toward the deepest, even the unfathomed, depths of our hearts – academic freedom. For that, I will be forever thankful to UP.

Lastly, teachers, including us in UP do not become rich by teaching. Hence, the support, understanding and most of all, the love that my wife, Dr. Merdelyn Caasi-Lit, and our children, Catherine, Jose Mari, and Fernando, give me have made possible my continuous wallowing into the dangerous waters of teaching biology, of advocating intellectual environmentalism, of tickling students’ minds to think more deeply, compassionately, and holistically about life, nature, people, and society, of doing science while communing with nature and getting high with the joys of discovery, and occasionally, of writing bits of self-taught poetry. This award is also theirs, our family’s.

Again, thank you very much UPLB, thank you everyone.

-Ireneo L. Lit, Jr. (Jun Lit)


This post is dedicated to my present, future & former students in BIO 140 (Evolutionary Biology) in UPLB and has been posted on my fb page about a year ago or earlier.

A student asked me:

“Is the evolution of resistance to antibiotic drugs and pesticides artificial selection?” The student added that a senior biologist he/she talked with reasoned that: “because humans invented drugs and pesticides and released them to the environment and, therefore, are not natural, the development of resistance to them qualifies as part of artificial selection.”

My answer:

The main difference between natural and artificial selection is that, in natural selection, it is nature or the environment that “blindly” (as against consciously, because nature has no consciousness) selects from among choices or variants – products of genetic processes; whereas in artificial selection, humans “consciously” or deliberately chooses organisms (plants, animals, etc.) which possess desirable (or beneficial, to humans, of course) traits. In the latest edition of the book “Evolution” (Futuyma & Kirkpatrick, 2017), natural selection is defined as: “The differential survival and/or reproduction of classes of entities” (i.e., alleles, genotypes (or their subsets), populations, species) “that differ in one or more characteristics.” The difference in survival and/or reproduction is “not due to chance” and has “the potential consequence of altering the proportions of the different entities” (~genotypic/gene frequencies). Such differences are usually inherited. On the other hand, artificial selection is defined as: “Selection by humans of a deliberately chosen trait or combination of traits in a (usualy captive) population; differing from natural selection in that the criterion for survival and reproduction is the trait chosen, rather than fitness as determined by the entire genotype.” (Futuyma & Kirkpatrick, ibid).

In the development of resistance to antibiotics among pathogenic microorganisms, or to pesticides among insect pests, plant pathogens and weeds, humans do not deliberately or “consciously” choose a trait or combination of traits, and the populations of organisms that develop resistance are definitely not captive. The same is true for the inevitable development of resistance to pest-protected GM crops, the changes in the behavior and other traits of native species as challenged by alien invasive species, and the various adaptations of organisms to all forms of pollution (that are all products of human activities). In all these cases, it is still nature that selects and one may surmise, a way through which “Nature fights back.” Possible exceptions to natural selection in a human-made environment maybe resistance to antibiotics or pesticides that had been induced in the laboratory for experimental purposes (but for which biosafety regulations have set safeguards and requires destruction of all experimental material after the conduct of studies). On the other hand, the deliberate moves toward insect resistance management or IRM with the objective of delaying the development of resistance to Bt crops may be tantamount to humans assisting nature in order to prolong the benefits to farmers that this technology provides.

No. The evolution of resistance to antibiotic drugs and pesticides does not constitute artificial selection. It is still natural selection.

As contestants in pageants say: “Thank you for that wonderful question . . .”  🙂🙂🙂


A Tribute to Joy

Today is the 9th day of what is the 11th but was originally the 9th month in the ancient Roman Calendar. The name November comes from the Latin “nove” meaning nine. Today also happens to be the day for the “siyaman” (Tagalog for the novena or 9-day prayers for the departed, a Filipino Catholic tradition) for the late Dr. Jocelyn E. Eusebio, who we had fondly called “Joy” who passed away five minutes before the midnight of last 01 November, a day celebrated as a holiday in the Philippines – All Saints’ Day. On the request of friends and colleagues, I am posting here the tribute that I delivered last Wednesday, 07 November, on behalf of the Pest Management Council of the Philippines as well as the Philippine Association of Entomologists. It is in Tagalog (Filipino) and I hope to update this soon with an accompanying English Translation for the sake of Joy’s friends and colleagues from abroad.

Always elegant especially in Filipiniana, just before the Opening Ceremonies of the most recent PMCP Conference in Cebu City


Dr. Reynaldo V. Ebora, Executive Director of PCAARRD; Dr. Feliciano B. and Mrs. Delia Calora, BSU President Calora, Dr. Villar, Mr. Barcelona, friends here in PCAARRD including Mam Edna, Tin, Kim et al.; fellow members of PAE, colleagues in the PMCP and its affiliated societies: Good morning!

 Please allow me to read this short Tribute to Joy in Filipino as I speak before you today on behalf of the Pest Management Council of the Philippines as its current President as well as on behalf of the Philippine Association of Entomologists as its current Vice-President. [Our PAE President is currently on official trip attending a workshop in Tagaytay.]

Sa mga anak at mga apo, mga kapatid at sa buong angkan ng mga Eusebio lalo na dito sa Los Baños, mga kapita-pitagang panauhin, mga pinuno at kagawad ng PCAARRD-DOST, mga kaibigan at kasamahan sa serbisyo sa gobyerno at sa Unibersidad, Magandang umaga po!

Sa ngalan po ng mga kasapi at ng pamunuan ng Pest Management Council of the Philippines o PMCP, ganundin sa ngalan ng aming pangulo, mga kasama ko rin sa pamunuan at lahat ng kapwa ko kasapi sa Philipping Association of Entomologists, Inc. o PAE, hayaan po ninyong basahin at ipahayag ko ang pinag-isang parangal naming ito para kay Dr. Jocelyn E. Eusebio o mas kilala natin sa palayaw na Joy.

Naging isang matapat at masipag na kasapi ng PAE si Doc Joy na laging maaasahan sa mga gawaing pangkomite at pang-organisasyon. Naging Pangulo s’ya ng PAE sa unang pagkakataon noong 2003-2004. Kahit alam nating lahat kung gaano s’ya ka-busy o abala sa pagiging Director ng Crops Research Division ng PCAARRD, palagi may bahagi sa kanyang puso, isip, at gawa ang PAE. Isang halimbawa ay noong 2010 na kinailangan kong magbitiw sa pagka-Bise-Presidente dahil sa hindi inaasahang pagkabulag ng aking kanang mata at mga kaugnay nitong pangyayari, buong-puso niyang tinanggap ang aking naiwang tungkulin kung kaya’t muli siyang naging Pangulo ng PAE noong 2011-2012. Bago pa siya naging Pangulo nang dalawang beses ay aktibo na rin siya sa iba’t ibang posisyon, tungkulin at mga gawaing pangkomite at sa Executive Board. Noong 2008, bilang pagkilala sa kanyang natatangi at kapuri-puring mga ginawa bilang entomologist lalo na sa mga pag-aaral n’ya sa host plant resistance ng broad mite na isang invasive pest species na umaatake sa patatas, talong, atbp. at sa kanyang dedikasyon bilang research administrator lalo na sa PCAARRD-CRD, ginawaran s’ya ng PAE ng LB Uichanco Award sa kategorya ng non-academic achievements. Ang kategoryang ito ay tinatawag na ngayon bilang Feliciano B. Calora Award for Outstanding Entomologist.  Noong 2013-2014, naging Pangulo din sya ng Pest Management Council of the Philippines, ang Pambansa at pangunahing sanggunian sa mga isyu ng siyentipikong pananaliksik, pagkontrol at pamamahala ng mga peste, sakit, at mapanirang damo sa agrikultura at pamayanan. The fifth woman to become President of that prestigious national professional organization. Upang ilarawan ang kanyang pananaw sa ugnayan ng siyensya at mga siyentista ng Entomology at ng Pest Management sa pangkalahatang layunin ng pag-unlad ng ating bayan at kagalingan ng mga mamamayan, lalo na ng mga magsasaka, hayaan ninyong basahin ko ang bahagi ng kanyang Opening Remarks noong 2014 PMCP Conference: “This year’s conference theme “Harnessing Plant Science, Biotechnology, and Organic Approaches for Effective Pest Management” demands the commitment from the scientific community to develop and adopt different approaches in combatting pest problems due to climate change . . . The PMCP Conference is very important for the crop protection sector because it is an opportune time to update and expand our knowledge and horizons and share experiences in public and private institutions, recognizing outstanding institutions and outstanding members and their accomplishments . . .”  At kahit natapos na ang kanyang mga termino bilang pinuno sa PAE at PMCP, hindi roon natapos ang kanyang suporta at pakikilahok sa mga gawaing pang-organisasyon. Ang kanyang mga payo at tulong sa mga sumunod na pinuno sa maraming aspeto ay naging mahalagang ambag sa patuloy na magandang pagsulong ng PAE at PMCP.

Joy (Dr. Jocelyn E. Eusebio, center), sitting with the other Past Presidents of the Pest Management Council of the Philippines during the Opening Ceremonies of the 50th PMCP Anniversary and Annual Scientific Conference held last May 8-11 at the Mansion Hotel, Iloilo City

Kagabi narinig ko ang mga pahayag ng kanyang mga kapatid, mga anak, mga pinsan at iba pang kaanak. Hanga ako kung paano nya nagampanan nang buong-husay ang pagiging Direktor ng isa sa mga lalong mahalagang sangay ng PCAARRD, kawani sa gobyerno at serbisyo sibil, kasama naming sa siyensiya ng entomolohiya at agrikultura, pinuno at aktibong kasapi ng PAE at PMCP, kasabay ng pagiging mabuting ina at asawa, anak, pinsan, kapatid, kamag-anak, kaibigan. Noong nakaraang Mayo sa Iloilo kasama siya sa aming pinarangalan bilang Past PMCP President. Sa naturang programa, nabanggit ko sa aking closing remarks at maging sa aking talumpati ng pagtanggap sa pagiging kasalukuyang Pangulo ng PMCP, na lahat silang mga naging PMCP Presidents, sa wikang Ingles – “had worn shoes that are too big, too great to fill.” Siguro hindi lang “shoes” o sapatos ang mga isinuot ni Doc Joy sa kanyang paggampan sa maraming naging papel nya sa buhay. Siguro, may sombrero, may kwintas, scarf at marami pang iba, pero wag nating kakalimutan, isinuot nya ang lahat ng iyon ng may “poise” at “style” – alam nating lahat na elegante at fashionista si Doc Joy.

Sa bandang ito ng aking pahayag, hayaan po ninyong magbanggit din ako ng kaunti tungkol sa aming pagkakaibigan. Kumare ko po si Doc Joy. Ninang po siya ng aming bunsong anak ni Dr. Merdelyn C. Lit. Sa bawat tagumpay ng aming mga anak, hindi lang ng kanyang inaanak, masaya s’yang nakikibahagi sa aming kaligayahan, at may minsan ay may halo pang biro, na ‘mana sa ninang’ sabay “apir” with her matching signature big smile.

Noong una ay hindi naman kami talaga close, pero nitong mga nakaraang taong lalo na sa pagtingkad ng naging problema natin sa cocolisap, naging malaking encouragement at hindi matatawarang suporta ang kanyang mga payo, puna at mga mungkahi sa pagsulong ng mga pananaliksik at pagsusuri para sa kagyat at pangmatagalang solusyon sa problema ng mga magniniyog. Siguro alam ng marami sa inyo kung gaano kadalang ang suporta sa mga research projects para sa mga tulad kong taxonomist. Nagkakasya na ang mga guro namin sa mumunting grasya. Subalit sa mga tips nya at sa tulong ng tambalan niya at ng ating butihing Executive Director na si Dr. Rey Ebora, nagkaroon ako sa kauna-unahang pagkakataon sa mahigit 30ng taon ko sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas ng isang PCAARRD-funded project. Kasama sa mga accomplishment ng naturang project, may mga nadiskubre kaming ilang bagong uri o species ng mga scale insects. Bilang pagkilala sa kanyang suporta hindi lamang sa akin kundi kabuuan ng Philippine Entomology at Agricultura, isa sa mga bagong species ay ipapangalan namin sa kanya.   Sorpresa sana ito, kaya nga lang, nakakalungkot hindi na nya iyon mababasa o makikita. Ganunpaman, magsisilbing permanenteng tatak at pagkilala iyon ng kanyang mahalagang suporta at kontribusyon bilang isang entomologist at science administrator para sa siyensya ng entomology, pest management at agriculture.

Sa panghuli, salamat Mareng Joy sa maraming likes at hearts sa aking mga post sa fb, lalo na ng malaman mong ako pala’y hindi lang scientific papers ang sinusulat kundi pati mga tula. Para sa ‘yo Mareng Joy, pakinggan po ninyo itong aking munting nakayanang tulang dalit*:

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Her life was an outstanding performance that deserves no less than a standing ovation. Isang kahanga-hangang tao, babae, ina, kapatid, mabait na boss, leader, at marami pang iba, ang ating kaibigan – Dr. Jocelyn “Joy” Eusebio Eusebio. Palakpakan po natin.

Maraming salamat po.

– Jun Lit        

*dalit – a style of poetry that flourished early in the Tagalog Region of the Philippines, where each stanza is composed of four rhyming lines, each line with eight syllables.

Note: The poem “Dalit-Pasalamat” has been published in Hello Poetry and here is the link: https://hellopoetry.com/poem/2815183/dalit-pasalamat/.

English Translation of the Poem:

for Joy EPoem of Thankfulness –

Life is a trek, a long journey
Once, in same lap and step, were we
Your big helping hand was ready –
To serve was what we both did see.

The knowledge that insects inspired
Became the key to friendship fired
Served as the bridge linking and wired –
Science that serves people, aspired.

To you our dear departed friend,
Our thanks to you, forever spend.
You are Joy, joy you did extend
We won’t forget you till the end.