This summer, I am interning at the Consumer-driven Grain Quality and Nutrition Center at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which is in Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines. This internship is fully sponsored by the Freeman Asia program at Illinois Wesleyan University.
I am excited to gain new research skills as well as explore this beautiful country with some new friends! I will be posting all my adventures here so I hope you enjoy!
The newer posts are at the top so please read from bottom to top. For more pictures, click on the gallery section at the top. Feel free to leave comments as well, thanks! 😊
The next morning in El Nido, Jessica and I took a tricycle back to town to grab lunch. We went to El Nido Brunch and sat in bean bags as we enjoyed our chicken panini and banana waffles with nutella. Then, we ran into Semaj and Chrishana and walked around the beach together. Although none of us wanted to leave, we had to head back for another bumpy and long ride to the airport. We arrived less than an hour before our 7:55 p.m. check-in time and quickly ate dinner. Thankfully, the flight and drive back to Manila were short, but we still arrived at IRRI around 11:30 p.m.
Despite having a jam-packed weekend and getting home late, we had to wake up before 6 a.m. the next day to do fieldwork. Although I was tired, I enjoyed being a farmer for a day! We got to perform multiple rice planting activities such as ploughing using a carabao, puddling (churning the soil with water using a hydrotiller), harrowing (breaking apart the soil by using a powertiller), grid marking (plotting where to transplant rice), riding a transplanter, hand-transplanting seedlings, and using a drum seeder. Rice can either be planted directly or transplanted. For direct seeding, the seeds are directly sown into field, which is what a drum seeder does. For transplanting, the seedlings are grown in a nursery before being transferred to a field. There are pros and cons to both methods. Direct seeding requires a lot less labor and is a quicker process, but the crops are more prone to weeds. Transplanting (which is the more common method in Asia) has better weed control and requires less seeds. However, it requires more workers and more expensive machinery. After we finished planting, we saw a drone fly over the field to do everything we just did: plant more seeds! It was fascinating to see how technology is being utilized to assist with such a laborious job. The rest of the day, I scrubbed the mud off my clothes, took a 4 hour nap, did laundry, and just relaxed.
On Wednesday, I finally got to perform an SEC experiment after only analyzing its data the past week. There are 2 parts to the experiment: gelatinization and debranching. Gelatinization is when starch granules swell up in heat and water, giving them a viscous/transparent texture. First, I added ethanol and NaOH to dissolve and isolate the starch. Then, I placed the samples on a hot plate and added water. Debranching is the breakdown of amylopectin into smaller, linear chains by hydrolyzing 1,6-α-d-glycosidic bonds. For the next part of the experiment, I added NaOAC buffer and isoamylase (the debranching enzyme). The samples were then incubated for a few hours and boiled to denature isoamylase. After centrifuging and removing the supernatant, the samples were transferred to eppendorf tubes with ion exchange resin that removes the excess ions. The samples were once again incubated and then transferred to SEC vials that were placed into the SEC machine. I had to wait overnight to obtain the results since there were multiple samples with replicates, each run taking 35 minutes.
On Thursday, I learned how to do a new experiment called Texture Profile Analysis (TPA). The purpose of this experiment is to quantify the texture/hardness of rice. Although certain rice lines can have many nutritional benefits, if the consumer does not like the texture, then it will not sell in the market. TPA aims to determine the texture of rice without having to do in vivo trials. I will dive more into depth about the experiment in next week’s post. On Friday, I also performed more TPA runs. After lab, Jazz and I ordered mutton biryani through a food delivery app called Grab. This is the same app we used to find transportation in Manila. I’m not used to using food delivery and transportation apps in the US, but it is very easy to use and is much cheaper than what DoorDash or Uber would cost. Another app we have used in the past to order food is called Food Panda. Los Baños offers a worldwide cuisine of food so it’s not hard to buy what you’re craving for.
The next morning, the girls and and Raquel (a Filipino undergraduate student from Jessica’s lab) went to the Saturday market again. After walking around for a bit, we were invited to a Bangladeshi cultural event hosted at UPLB. We tried a noodle dish and a lot of sweet treats with “Pomp and Circumstance” playing in the background as the UPLB orchestra was practicing for their graduation ceremony. We were still hungry so we headed over to a vegan restaurant called Vraja Cuisine. They had really nice rose lemon juice! After enjoying a good meal, we headed back to IRRI to play volleyball. The IWU gang was joined by some interns from Taiwan, and we had a casual match. Later that evening, to make up for the lack of meat during lunch, we decided to go to a Korean BBQ spot called Samgyupsalamat (a wordplay of samgyupsal, which means grilled pork belly in Korean, and salamat, which means thank you in Tagalog). At the restaurant, we could ask for unlimited meat and side dishes for just $10. We grilled beef, pork, and chicken at the center of our table. None of our stomachs got upset the next few days so we did a good job!
On Sunday, the IWU interns and a few other IRRI interns rode a jeepney to a neighboring city to explore their mall, SM Calamba. Although it wasn’t as big as the Mall of Asia, it was still a decent sized mall with 3 levels. I bought a few souvenirs, but I mostly spent my time window shopping. Later that afternoon, some of the others decided to watch the new Mission Impossible movie at the theatre inside while the rest of us kept wandering around. We tried delicious boba, played some claw machine games, and just strolled through shops. I also got a massage for the first time for less than $5! After several hours, we took a jeepney back to Los Baños and ate at Spice Jar once again.
Apart from testing the GI of different rice lines in the lab (in vitro), GQ also performs clinical trials with human subjects (in vivo). On Monday, 4 interns (including myself) volunteered to participate. We skipped breakfast and had a glucose monitor placed on our arms. Then, we each received a sample of rice with different GI values. Over the span of 2 hours, we had to check our glucose level every 5 minutes. The higher the glucose level spiked up, the higher the GI value is. Unfortunately, my sensor may have been malfunctioning because I got readings below what the sensor could actually sense. The trial was successful for the others. Typically, this test would be done over the span of 10 days. For 8 of those days, participants would be given different samples of rice with varying GIs. For 2 days, they would receive a glucose drink (GI = 100). Since my monitor was not working, I only participated for a day.
On Monday and Tuesday, IRRI hosted “Science Week” where different IRRI facilities joined together to present their progress. There were sessions running all day with plenty of snacks. Some of the topics included climate-resilient breeding programs, direct seeded rice (rice that isn’t grown in nurseries and then transplanted, but instead, is directly sown into the field), and biofortification strategies to enhance the zinc and mineral content in rice. One researcher also presented about golden rice, which is made to target vitamin A deficiency (VAD). According to the World Health Organization, VAD affects 250 million people worldwide; most of this population includes children (190 million) and pregnant women (19 million). Golden rice is enhanced with beta carotene, which is converted into vitamin A. It was created in 1999 using genetic engineering to add genes from a common soil bacterium and daffodils to rice. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA declared golden rice to be safe for consumption in 2018. In 2021, the Philippines became the world’s first country to grant approval for the commercial cultivation of it; Bangladesh is also trying to get approval. This genetically modified rice line has created a lot of controversies in the world. First of all, there is a lot of tension regarding the safety of GMOs. There is also the argument that golden rice will not be worth the price for its effects and that the populations who need it the most will not be able to access it. Its production is more expensive than traditional crops. Golden rice requires a lot of pesticides and herbicides that farmers may not be able to afford. Overall, most people claim that its production will support big businesses, not the consumers it is targeted towards.
As a part of Science Week, GQ offered a rice tasting test between an ultra low GI (ULGI) rice line and golden rice. There was a survey that asked about the aroma, texture, taste, appearance, and overall experience the individual had for each rice sample. They also had to answer if rice was a part of their usual diet and how often they eat rice. For me, golden rice tasted much better than the ULGI rice. Since ULGI rice has higher amylose content, the texture is much harder. Golden rice tasted similar to white rice, and I could not tell the difference between it and the rice I eat back home or at the IRRI cafeteria, other than its golden tint. After everyone completed the surveys, I transferred the results into individual google forms. Almost everyone gave higher ratings for golden rice. Additionally during the presentation sessions, GQ was represented by Dr. Nese as he presented about the nutritional value of rice and diabetic friendly rice lines.
Throughout the week, I continued to work on more SEC calculations and data analysis. I also performed multiple runs of the GI experiment with Ate Ching and Ate Ana Rose. On Tuesday (our independence day), Jazz and I went out after work. Fun fact, July 4th was also supposed to be the Philippines’ independence day. On July 4, 1946, the US withdrew its sovereignty over the Philippines. However, the date is ironic because the US also conquered the Philippines on the 4th. After Spain surrendered in 1898, the Philippine-American War started in 1899. This ended with President Teddy Roosevelt declaring victory over the Philippines on July 4, 1902. In 1962, President Diosdado Macapagal changed independence day to the date when they received freedom from Spain, which was June 12, 1898. Whether this was the result of the U.S. Congress turning down a $73 million aid package to the Philippines or the rise of Filipino nationalism, there has been debates for the main reason for the change in date.
Back to our outing – Jazz and I got our nails done at Hiraya Spa. Prices were much cheaper than the US as a manicure and pedicure were only $7! The workers were super friendly and asked me a lot of questions. Afterwards, we went out to eat at a Vietnamese spot called Infusion. I tried Bánh Mì for the first time. It is a sandwich made with a baguette, pickled vegetables, and a meat of your choice. I also ate fresh spring rolls that were wrapped in transparent rice paper. All the food was delicious – one of my favorite places so far! Additionally, this is the first restaurant I have been to where they offered a box of disposable gloves to eat with. To get back home, I rode a tricycle for the first time, which is a common and cheap method of public transportation in the Philippines. It is a motorcycle that is attached to a side car. They are very small and low to the ground, but they can fit around 4 people, not including the driver. A ride usually costs around 80 pesos per person, which is less than $1.50. It was a bumpy but fun experience!
As a part of our internship, we are allowed to have 2 long weekends: one of our choice and the other one being our last weekend in the Philippines. Our group decided to take Friday and Monday off so we could fly to a different island. All 13 Philippine IWU interns planned to travel to El Nido in Palawan, which is a very popular tourist spot and a luxurious vacation spot for Filipinos. After lab on Thursday, all the IRRI interns packed our bags and headed for the Manila airport a little before midnight to catch our 4 a.m. flight. We weren’t able to fly directly to El Nido so we arrived at the Puerto Princesa airport after a 1 hour plane ride and rented a van. From there, it was an extremely bumpy 5 hour ride to our hostel in El Nido. After fueling myself with food and a quick nap, I met other tourists from countries all around the world. Our hostel had different games every night so we all played together.
The next morning, all the IWU interns and a few others from the hostel went island hopping on a boat. This was one of the most breathtaking experiences I have had! Our first stop was Seven Commandos Beach, which was packed with tourists! A few of us played beach volleyball while the others cooled off in the water. There were many peddlers trying to sell jewelry, and I bought a beaded bracelet for less than $2. They were also selling a lot of snacks and drinks at the island. After sipping on coconut for a while, we headed to our next destination to snorkel: Shimizu Island. This was my very first time snorkeling, and it was pretty cool but a little scary being in the middle of the ocean! There was a lot of fish swimming around and coral everywhere. I wish I could have taken pictures underwater! **Speaking of pictures, please check out my gallery section for more El Nido pictures because I can’t show everything in this blog post**
Next, we sailed over to Big Lagoon – one of the most famous spots in El Nido. On the way there, the tour guides provided us lunch, which included chicken wraps and fruits. After we immediately gobbled this down, we stopped at the lagoon to go kayaking around limestone cliffs. Jessica and I paddled through the beautiful, crystal-clear turquoise sea. It felt surreal! As we weaved through the cliffs, we saw sea urchins and other cool creatures. We also parked our kayak against the cliff and relaxed in the shallow part of the water for a bit. While we were heading back to our boat, it started to drizzle. Thankfully, that was the only rainy part of our experience! Our last stop was Secret Lagoon, which was a smaller beach with less people. We played some more intense volleyball, and then later, we did flips in the water. Despite a few injuries and a few water-damaged phones, all of us had an enjoyable time exploring the beauty of El Nido!
The next day consisted of us mostly exploring the town in the afternoon. Since it is a touristy spot, there were a lot of souvenir shops and cute food places. From our hostel to the town, it was a 10 minute tricycle ride. Everything else was a walkable distance. I bought a freshly-made pineapple shake and a lot of souvenirs! For dinner, the IRRI girls, Semaj, and Chrishana went to a Japanese-Italian restaurant called Chef Mark Style. The crab and corn rolls I got were really good! Jessica, Semaj, and I continued to walk around the town in the evening. At one of the souvenir stores, there was a little girl who kept playing peek-a-boo/tag with us behind all the clothing racks. While walking along the streets, there were more bracelet vendors trying to sell them to us. I gave in and bought a bunch of bracelets. Once we got back to the hostel, Jessica and I had a mini kdrama night before we fell asleep.
The rest of the El Nido trip will be included in next week’s blog so stay tuned!
This week, Jazz and I analyzed data from previous SEC experiments. SEC, or size exclusion chromatography, is a technique that separates molecules based on their size. A sample passes through a column containing a gel with pores. Smaller molecules get trapped in these pores while larger molecules continue to move down through the column. Thus, larger molecules are eluted out of the machine first. The refractive index (RI) detector then quantifies the length of each chain. A graph can be made that separates each molecule based on its degree of polymerization (DP), which is the amount of monomer units in a polymer.
Starch is made up of 2 glucose polymers: amylose and amylopectin. Amylose has a mostly linear structure while amylopectin is very branched. The amount of each polymer affects the cooking and eating quality of rice. Rice with higher amounts of amylose tends to be harder while more amylopectin results in gelatinous and sticky rice. When conducting SEC, the starch is debranched enzymatically so all the amylopectin branches are separated. This results in amylopectin having a lower DP than amylose. Amylose elutes before amylopectin because its larger coils are able to move faster through the column while the smaller amylopectin coils are trapped in the pores.
To find the total amount of amylose and amylopectin in a sample, the area under the curve is calculated when graphing % mole against the degree of polymerization. Jazz and I were given raw data with retention times and milimoles of starch, which we had to convert to the percentage of amylose and amylopectin in the samples. I will explain more details about the actual experiment in a future blog post!
Later this week, Jazz and I also conducted another GI experiment, the same one we did my first week. There were 15 pre-weighed samples of rice in large test tubes. We then added water to each tube and cooked the rice in a boiling pot of water. Next, we prepared buffer solutions with their respective enzymes (amylase, pepsin, AMG/pancreatin). There is a certain time table we follow to add the enzymes and acid/base into the tubes, which takes a total of 1 hour and 32 minutes to finish. This is to replicate the time your food is introduced to each enzyme. The first enzyme added is amylase, which is found in the saliva. It breaks down starch into maltose (2 glucose units). Then, the rice is minced using a spatula to replicate chewing. After that, HCl is added to copy the acidic environment of the stomach. Pepsin is then added to break down proteins into smaller peptides. Next, the pH is increased by adding NaOH to copy the environment of the pancreas and intestines. An aliquot is taken to represent the amount of glucose before complete digestion (t=0). Then, a combination of amyloglucosidase (AMG) and pancreatin are added. Pancreatin contains trypsin, amylase, and lipase, which break down protein, starch, and lipids, respectively. AMG imitates the activity of maltase, glucoamylase, sucrase, and isomaltase in the small intestine. Thirty minutes after these enzymes are added, another aliquot is taken (t=30). After centrifuging, making more aliquots, adding AMG, mixing, incubating, adding GOPOD, and incubating once again, we transferred the samples to a microplate and placed them into a UV/vis spectrometer to receive absorbance readings. Using correction factors, dilution factors, the starch constant, and total volume, we can convert the absorbances to milligrams of starch. This is then converted to percent of starch hydrolyzed. Next, we find the area under the curve between the percent of starch hydrolyzed at t=0 and t=30 and use a correction factor to find what the estimated GI value is. In this run, the GI values were in the fifties, which is considered low to intermediate.
Outside of the lab, we had an eventful week! On Tuesday, the girls had a relaxing self-care night where we did face masks and jammed out to music. Wednesday was another holiday (Eid al-Adha) so we had another day off! At first, the IWU group went to Robinsons to do some clothes shopping. Then, we went to Siento Cafe, which had really good passionfruit slushies! Afterwards, we played volleyball at IRRI and became completely soaked in sweat. On Thursday, the scholars program at IRRI hosted a “social hour” where someone gives a presentation about the country of the month. This month, a couple presented the geography and culture of Pakistan. We played volleyball again on Friday, but this time, a lot of locals joined us so it felt like a real game. Throughout this week, Julia slept over in my dorm because there was an infestation of cockroaches in her room (there were only 3).
On Saturday, the IWU interns and a few other IRRI interns hiked the peak of Mount Makiling. As mentioned in a previous post, Mount Makiling is a dormant volcano that has an elevation of 3,580 ft. I have never been hiking before so this was quite the first time experience! We woke up early in the morning, grabbed breakfast at McDonalds, and headed over to the mountain by using a jeepney. There are 2 hikes you can do: one on a gravel road to the base of the summit and one from the base to the peak. We skipped over the gravel road and started from the base by taking motorcycles up the road. Our group had a decently quick pace, and we reached the summit in 2.5 hours. On the way up, there we parts where we had to climb ladders and use ropes to get up because of the near 90º inclines. It felt like I was in some outdoor survival show! There were also a lot of tiny blood-sucking leeches that stuck onto our pants. Luckily, they were fairly easy to remove as we just pinched them or flicked them off. After taking pictures and eating snacks at the peak, we headed back to the base. I think I had a harder time coming back down because it was so slippery! It took us a little over 2 hours on the hike back. Thankfully, we all survived with no huge wipeouts or injuries! Later that evening, Hunter (Manila) and Sam (Santo Tomas) came over so we showed them a few of our favorite spots in Los Baños.
We started the week off with another holiday: Laguna Day. Filipinos really love their holidays! June 19th was the birthday of Dr. José Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines. Although he was an ophthalmologist, he was also a huge advocate for political reforms when the Philippines was colonized by Spain. Rizal is best known for his novels that inspired the Philippine revolution. On Monday, the girls went to a cafe to read some journal articles and work on our blogs. I had a slice of ube (purple yam) cake which tasted similar to taro. Later that evening, an intern from India named Sakshi cooked us a traditional dinner for us.
The next day, I woke up at 5 a.m. to get ready for our work trip to Laiya Beach in Batangas which is south of Los Baños. My lab group went to Kota Keluarga Resort and stayed there for most of the day. In the beginning, we split up into teams and played mini beach games. Unfortunately, my team got last place, but we still had fun! I also played a lot of volleyball and relaxed in the pool for a bit. We rode on a banana boat and a flying fish ride. It was nice getting to know more of my coworkers outside of an academic setting!
After having an extended holiday, Jazz and I started our RS/DC experiment on Wednesday, which takes 3 days to complete. RS (resistant starch) is a type of carbohydrate that gets fermented in the large intestine instead of getting digested in the small intestine. RS feeds the good bacteria in our gut. DC (digestible carbohydrate) is the opposite (like its name implies), and these carbohydrates are responsible for providing energy for the rest of our body. In the experiment, we analyzed 33 samples of rice with triplicates (total of 99) from one of IRRI’s mapping populations. We took samples of rice flour and added various reagents like ethanol, pancreatin, amyloglucosidase, sodium maleate, sodium acetate, and potassium hydroxide to break down the long glucose chains. The process involved a lot of centrifuging, mixing, pipetting, incubating, and overnight drying. Towards the end, we added a reagent called GOPOD which stands for glucose oxidase/peroxidase. Here is the reaction that occurs:
D-glucose, also known as dextrose, is the most abundant type of glucose (the other is L-glucose). In this reaction, D-glucose reacts with GOPOD to create a pinkish tint which is seen with the formation of quinoneimine dye. The amount of glucose is quantified using a UV/vis spectrometer. Typically, the more glucose a sample has, the darker the sample is, leading to a larger absorbance reading. Once the absorbance readings are taken, we perform calculations that account for dilution factors, the total volume, and the starch constant to get an RS and DC value in milligrams of starch. RS and DC and inverse of each other so samples with a high RS value should have a low DC value and vice versa.
After lab on Friday, the IWU interns and Sakshi took a shuttle to Manila and stayed over at a hostel. We got to explore a bit of the nightlife before we headed to bed. On Saturday, we went to the National Museum of Anthropology which contained several exhibits with archaeological collections from the islands. One of my favorite exhibits was the Kaban Ng Lahi Exhibit, which portrayed the craftsmanship and burial traditions of Philippine society thousands of years ago. The gallery contained Maitum anthropomorphic burial potteries, which are burial vessels in the shape of human heads. Many of these works are considered to be national cultural treasures.
After walking around the museum for a few hours, we met up with 2 interns from the FNRI group, Semaj and Chrishana, and also Jazz at SM Mall of Asia. It was fun window shopping at the 5th biggest mall in the world – definitely way better than any of the malls near Bloomington! They had a lot of popular American stores as well as a lot of skincare and cultural stores. We ate dinner at a ramen place called Ramen Nagi which filled us up pretty quickly.
On Sunday, Julia, Jessica, and I went to a Catholic Church called Our Lady of Remedies Parish Church. It was cool to see how similar the service/mass was even though we are in a different country. Everything was in English. Later that day, we ate at SaSa cafe and headed back to IRRI. I slept well after a busy weekend!
June 12th was the 125th anniversary of when the Philippines received independence from Spain. What better way to celebrate a nation’s independence day than exploring its natural beauty! On Monday, we went to Makiling Botanic Gardens and hiked on the Ecotrail for a few hours. Although a lot of us fell (multiple times) due to the muddy inclines and slopes, we enjoyed our little adventure through the forest. Since the shuttle system has limited stops on the weekends and holidays, we also had to walk 45 minutes back to IRRI.
Throughout this week, the other researchers from GQ (PhD students, masters students, scientists, technicians, interns, supervisors, etc) presented their mid-year progress on their projects. We had a collaborative week of meetings with the Gene Identification and Validation Team from IRRI and the Centre for Excellence in Rice Value Addition Team from India (virtually). I was fascinated to be in such an academic atmosphere where I got to learn about more projects happening at IRRI outside of my biochemistry world. Everyone from each team has the same goal in mind but have different ways of accomplishing it: “abolishing poverty and hunger among people and populations that depend on rice-based agri-food systems” and aiming to “improve the health and welfare of rice farmers and consumers; promote environmental sustainability in a world challenged by climate change; and support the empowerment of women and the youth in the rice industry” (IRRI’s Mission Statement). Some topics that were presented include profiling antioxidant levels in pigmented rice, using a transgenic approach to increase photosynthesis, and producing healthier rice-based food products.
One of my favorite topics was learning about the anti-cancer properties of pigmented rice. Milled rice, aka white rice, is rice that has had its husk, bran, and germ layer removed, leaving just the endosperm. Pigmented rice (black, purple, red, and brown) still has its bran layer as only the husk is removed. Bran is made up of the aleurone layer which contains many nutrients, minerals, fatty acids, dietary fiber, amino acids, and more compounds that play a crucial role in the body. It also contains phytochemicals such as flavonoids which have a lot of antioxidants. These phytochemicals have been proven to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells. Most people prefer to eat white rice over pigmented rice due to its increased shelf life, its taste/texture, and culinary traditions. While there are lots of claims about pigmented rice’s health benefits, more studies have to be conducted to explore the underlying metabolic diversity using metabolite genome-wide association studies – which is what our researchers are trying to do.
Outside of the presentations, I really appreciated all the snack breaks we had; we also got free lunches at the cafeteria. My favorite treat that I tried this week was maja blanca, which is coconut pudding. Another treat I liked was turon, which is a deep-friend banana roll. Compared to the other jobs I have had in the US, my work hours have been very flexible. Typically we work from 8 to 5 with a 1 hour lunch and little breaks in the middle. Some people choose to come in earlier while others tend to stay later.
On Friday, the newer interns received a more in-depth tour of IRRI that was led by the scholars program. We finally got to go inside one of the areas IRRI is most known for: the International Rice Genebank. Their genebank contains the largest collection of rice species from all around the globe. Rice from decades back are stored either in a huge freezer for long-term preservation or a huge fridge for distribution. We also got to see the Seed Health Unit, Plant Growth Facility, and Genotyping Services Laboratory. Before coming to IRRI, I didn’t know much about rice and the process of cultivating it – I simply just ate it. After getting to see all the processes behind-the-scenes, I have gained more respect for those who work in this industry. Afterwards, the IWU interns and another intern named AJ went shopping at Robinsons and ate at a Tex-Mex restaurant called Spice Jar.
On Saturday, some of the other IRRI interns and on-the-job trainees planned a trip with us to Villa Escudero. Initially, Villa Escudero used to be a coconut plantation that was run by the Escuderos in the 1800s. Now, it’s a popular resort where you get to cool off and become immersed in Filipino culture. First, we went to the Escudero Private Museum which had religious and historic artifacts from around the world. Then, we went bamboo rafting and relaxed in the pool and jacuzzi for a bit. We had a buffet-style lunch right next to a waterfall where the water was running right below us. Afterwards, we watched a cultural show where the songs and dances had a heavy Spanish influence. We all enjoyed spending time with the other IRRI scholars and had an overall fun day trip!
Instead of sleeping in after a long journey, the other interns and I woke up early in the morning to walk to South Supermarket, which was around 20 minutes away, to buy a few essentials. Later on, we found out that there is a free IRRI shuttle bus that can take us there, but we enjoyed the walk although it started raining on the way back. When I was still in Bloomington, I looked at the weather forecast in Los Baños and got a bit discouraged as I saw it was supposed to rain everyday. However, it only rains for 5-10 minutes, and then there is sunshine or clouds the rest of the day. The weather is very humid and a little warmer than what we are used to, but we will adjust to it over time, hopefully! The highs are usually around the upper 80’s to lower 90’s while the lows are around the upper 70’s – very consistent unlike Illinois weather.
In the afternoon, we had an interactive orientation about common Filipino phrases such as “kamusta ka” (how are you) and “ako po ay si…” (my name is…). Many Filipinos add “po” to the end of their sentences to show respect. For example, when saying thank you, you can say “salamat po.” During the orientation, we got to try buko pie which is a speciality in Los Baños. It is a soft, flaky pie made from coconut meat with a creamy filling. Then, we went to a restaurant named Kamayan where you traditionally eat with your hands. All the seating areas were on top of water, and they had a buffet where all the food was on banana leaves. We tried fresh tilapia, various noodles, adobo chicken (their national dish), halo-halo (shaved ice with ice cream, milk, leche flan, purple yam jam, sweetened beans, fruits, jellies), and more.
The next day, we had another orientation, but it was just for IRRI interns. Kuya Froilan, the person in charge of coordinating these internships, gave us a brief orientation about IRRI’s facilities as well as a tour of Los Baños through a reserved shuttle bus. We got to see Laguna Lake, which is the largest lake in the Philippines. We also got to buy some fresh fruit from a local vendor.
IRRI is a part of the campus of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). It has a lot of nice facilities such as spacious dorms with a balcony and our own bathroom, a gym with a free trainer, cafeterias close to the dorm/research buildings, a souvenir shop, cafe, the Rice World Museum, and many more. The other IWU interns and I have already played lots of ping pong and volleyball at the gym – we will definitely be very active this trip! The cafeteria is located in the same building as our dorm, Harrar Hall, and it runs from 7 to 7. An average meal costs 100-300 pesos which is just around $2-4 (1 USD = 55.90 PHP), and they have a good selection of options everyday. Plus the food is delicious, Masarap!
While most of us know Los Baños to mean “the bathrooms” in Spanish, it also means “the baths.” Back when the Philippines was owned by Spain, many Spaniards were attracted to the therapeutic effects of the hot springs near Mount Makiling, a dormant volcano. Therefore, Pedro Bautista changed its name from Mainit (hot) to Los Baños. Jet lag didn’t stop us from exploring this city right away! On our second full day, before we figured out that the shuttle bus drops us off at different gates closer to the main parts of the city, we walked around 30 to 45 minutes to see the other places nearby. Everything is alongside the main road called Lopez Avenue. We scouted out a few places for future adventures, and then we went to Robinsons, which is a 3-level mall filled with retail outlets and fast food chains. We ate dinner there and browsed through some stores. Throughout our first week, we went to other stores like Los Baños Centtromall, and we also ate at restaurants such as Seoul Kitchen, Dalcielo, and Bonitos. Whenever we walk around the streets, everyone turns to look at us. I am not used to being seen as a foreigner but that is part of the package when exploring a new country!
Every Saturday morning, there is a bazaar nearby. Vendors set up booths near UPLB Freedom Park and sell snacks, drinks, and mini gifts. After buying a few things, we walked through the UPLB campus and continued to explore more of Los Baños. That day was also Hannah’s birthday so we did some karaoke and had a fun night together!
As for the main reason I am in the Philippines, I also started my internship this week. On Wednesday, June 7th, I met with Dr. Nese Sreenivasulu who is the head researcher of the Consumer-driven Grain Quality and Nutrition Center (CdGQNC or just GQ). We discussed my previous research experience as well as his goals for me for the next 2 months. I will be helping a PhD student named Ate Adzra with her experiments. To begin with, I analyzed the glycemic index (GI) of different rice. GI is a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate can raise your blood glucose level. A high GI indicates that your blood sugar will spike immediately. A low GI indicates that the carbohydrates will break down more slowly, resulting in the gradual release of glucose into your bloodstream.
Rice is a staple for over half of the world population. Unfortunately, most rice varieties tend to have a higher GI level compared to other starchy foods. Examples of high GI rice include Japanese sushi rice and Jasmine rice while Basmati rice and pigmented rice have a lower GI. Many of the top rice-consuming countries such as China and India also have a high rate of type 2 diabetes. Studying GI is essential because lower GI foods can help manage and control your blood glucose levels. Efforts are being made to create low to moderate GI rice lines through genetic manipulations and also to promote a well-balanced diet with other low GI foods.
During my first week, I received a brief orientation of the lab and spent most of my time reading papers. On Friday, I assisted another Filipino intern named Jazz to perform an experiment that replicates the human digestive system to calculate the GI of a mapping population. IRRI breeds multiple rice lines that can create 200+ offspring, collectively known as a mapping population. One run of the GI experiment takes a few hours to set everything up, cook the rice, wait for the rice to “digest” using enzymes like amylase and pepsin, incubating the samples, and finally take the absorbance readings using a UV/vis spectrometer to calculate the GI value (I will dive into more details in future weeks). Next week, I will not be in the lab because the other researchers will be presenting their mid-year updates in front of our research cluster. Afterwards, I will determine more phenotypes such as the resistant starch and digestible carbohydrate values of more mapping populations.
I have been to India several times so I am used to traveling for a long period of time, but traveling to the Philippines was a different experience. From leaving my house in Bloomington to arriving at my dorm in IRRI, it took nearly 50 hours! There are 3 locations in the Philippines that 13 IWU students will be completing their internship at: the International Rice Research Institute, St. Francis Cabrini Medical Center, and the Food and Nutrition Research Institute. We flew together on June 3rd through Etihad Airways from O’Hare to Abu Dhabi and then to NAIA.
The first flight was 13.5 hours, and then we had a 16 hour layover. Thankfully, we were booked a hotel at Aloft Abu Dhabi. Once we arrived, we got to relax and unwind for a bit. Unfortunately, the high was 104ºF with a UV index of 12 so we couldn’t explore outside for a long time, but we were able to refreshen ourselves with some Starbucks. Our hotel was very elegant with friendly staff, and there were a lot of great food options inside, despite being on the pricer side.
Instead of taking a nap like I should have (because I got less than 3 hours of sleep on the plane), some of us decided to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is the largest mosque in the UAE. It was easy to find a taxi to get there, because they are always driving outside the hotel 24/7. Before we entered the mosque, there were a lot of gift shops and clothing stores. To walk around the mosque, we had to be fully covered. The architecture was extremely detailed and beautiful to see at nighttime.
Our next flight was at 3 a.m., and it took 9 hours to fly to Manila. Once we arrived at the airport on June 5th, we exchanged our money to Philippine pesos and explored inside while waiting for 2 students who flew from different airlines. The first purchase I made in the Philippines was strawberry milk tea with boba (obviously). Food was one of the things I was the most excited for, and their boba did not disappoint! After that, we ate dinner at Jollibee, which is the Filipino equivalent of McDonalds, popularity-wise. They serve lots of chicken, burgers, spaghetti, fries, and more!
Dr. Amoloza, who is in charge of the Freeman Asia Program at IWU, had her brother, Tito Mon, pick us up from the airport. In the Philippines, we address those who are considered to be uncles and aunts as Tito (male) or Tita (female). Anyone else who is older than us like an older sibling or someone who has a higher authority than us is called Kuya (male) or Ate (female). After all the IWU interns arrived, we drove to Los Baños, which is 2 hours southeast of Manila. Both cities are located in Luzon Island, which is the most populous island. The Philippines is split up into different administrative divisions: regions, provinces, cities/municipalities, and barangays (neighborhood/village). IRRI is located in the Calabarzon region in Maahas (barangay), Los Baños (city), Laguna (province). The IRRI interns arrived at our dorm late at night while the other IWU interns stayed at a hotel since their locations are in different cities in Luzon Island.