PSHS Students Complete Their Internship at Herbanext

Last May 6, 2012, a total of 13 students from the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) Iloilo Campus completed their 30-day Summer Science Internship Program (SSIP) at the Herbanext Laboratory and Farms in Bago City. This outreach program of Herbanext is part of its commitment to promote interest in natural products research among the most academically gifted high school students in Region 6. PSHS is the country’s top academic institution for high school science education with students belonging to the top 0.1% of the population in terms of aptitude in science and mathematics, and is an attached agency of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

This year’s batch of students were very fortunate to have been exposed to a wide variety of important work activities and learned firsthand from a select group of resource persons. During their entire internship program, the students stayed at The Quiet Place Farm Resort where Herbanext’s R&D farm is based. In their first week, the students were tasked to lay the ground work for the establishment of the herbarium from the company’s collection of nearly 200 medicinal plants. The current medicinal plants conservatory of Herbanext formally took shape in 2009 as a project of the first ever batch of SSIP students. The conservatory has since grown to become the biggest private collection of medicinal plants in the Philippines. With the herbarium project of the SSIP students, Herbanext aims to establish a reference herbarium for medicinal plants in the Visayas with the support of the DOST.

The students were initially given a 3-day training on the identification, collection, and preservation of botanical specimen by Dr. Vicenta Gacutan, a botanist and former professor from the University of the Philippines in the Visayas. The students were able to identify a total of around 80 species and prepare a herbarium specimen for each. Dr. Lourdes Cardenas, visiting professor from the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, and also current President of the Natural Products Society of the Philippines, complemented the training with lectures on selected medicinal plants of the Philippines.

Starting on their second week of internship, the students were exposed to various farm activities by Herbanext’s resident agriculturist including the planting and harvesting of black rice, harvesting and cleaning of roselle, collection of vermicastings and earthworms, application of natural farming concoctions, and various medicinal plant propagation techniques such as doing cuttings and grafting. An Australian guest lecturer Mr. Gary Atrill from Stoller Philippines capped the second week with a lecture on plant health and nutrition.

The students spent most of their time at the Herbanext Laboratory and the Philippine Lumen School during the last two weeks of their SSIP. At the Lab, the students were familiarized with the manufacturing operations and were allowed to assist in ongoing product development work. The students particularly enjoyed the exercise on making functional candies utilizing various herb extracts. Herbanext technical staff also demonstrated the essential oil extraction and use of thin layer chromatography for fingerprinting various medicinal herbs.

At the Lumen School, where Herbanext is a donor institution, the students were given the challenging task of teaching biology and botany to children of underprivileged farmers in the rural barangay of Abuanan where the school is located. For 1.5 hours daily for 2 weeks, the PSHS students became part of the Lumen School summer teaching staff, experiencing being tormented teachers themselves of 3-16 year old students.

To further broaden the horizon of the students beyond the confines of Herbanext, several other guest lecturers were invited to spice up the SSIP program, starting with Dr. Cynthia Limlengco who talked about minimally invasive surgery, Registered Nurse Nicole Limlengco who lectured about first aid, Mr. Sam Solon owner of Sam’s Slim Gym who provided an inspirational talk about “Being a Champion in Life”, and finally Mr. Jeremiah Macias, Business Manager of Dupont Philippines who gave a very relevant talk about “Understanding People.”

As a reward to the students for a job well done with the herbarium, Herbanext President Philip S. Cruz treated the students to a visit to the Negros Museum, Negros Forest Foundation Zoo, OISCA Silkworm Farm, and the Mambukal Nature Resort.

This year’s SSIP batch is comprised of: Rio Portia Loren Celiz, Phil Aidan Cruz, Roxanne Cleath Gonzaga, Sharmaine Grande, Rica Julia Lee, Riza Grace Lee, Maria Denise Malhabour, Ferncy Dahl Martinez, Adrianne Fritz Parra, Ben Joshua Porras, Mary Hilary Senupe, and Jaime Te Jr. Most of the students look forward to doing a thesis work on medicinal plants this coming school year on their third year at PSHS.