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Science Prof. gets Fulbright Fellowship

Prof. Dr. Thomas Edison E. dela Cruz, professor of microbiology of the Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science and Graduate School is awarded the prestigious Fulbright Fellowship this 2011. Established in 1945 by Senator James William Fulbright through a law signed by US President Harry Truman, this most widely recognized and highly prestigious international fellowship aims to promote international goodwill through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science. As of 2011, approximately 310,000 Fulbrighters from over 155 countries have participated in the Fulbright Program since it began in 1946.

Dr. dela Cruz had his Fulbright fellowship at the Department of Biological Sciences in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas. His research focused on the species of myxomycetes associated with the ground and aerial leaf litter and decaying twigs in tropical forests (Philippines) and temperate forests (USA). It is hoped that through this study, he can fill in the gaps that exist in Philippine microbial biodiversity research. The comparison of the myxomycete assemblages in the forest ecosystems in the two ecoregions can also add to the understanding of the role the slime molds play in forest habitats and provide insights to the uniqueness of these ecoregions.

Dr. dela Cruz conducted his research under the supervision of the world-renowned myxomycete expert, Prof. Dr. Steven L. Stephenson. Dr. Stephenson was also a recipient of Fulbright Fellowship in India and is the lead investigator and project director of the Planetary Biodiversity Inventories – Eumycetozoan Project. This global project aims to gather all information available on the taxonomy, ecology and distribution of all three groups of eumycetozoans: myxomycetes, dictyostelids and protostelids.

In the study conducted by Dr. dela Cruz and Prof. Stephenson, preliminary data appear to show higher diversity for tropical forests than temperate forests. At least 43 species of myxomycetes belonging to 17 genera have been recorded thus far for substrates collected in the Philippines, whereas only 29 species representing 18 genera have appeared in moist chamber cultures prepared from substrates collected in Arkansas. Thirteen species from the Philippines are new records for the country. This brings the total number of myxomycetes recorded for the Philippines to 142. However, as the project continues, whether the patterns noted thus far will continue to hold true remains to be seen. This project is the largest study yet carried out to compare the assemblages of myxomycetes associated with the same types of substrates in tropical and temperate forests.

Dr. dela Cruz’s Fulbright experience did not end only in the laboratory. Together with Prof. Stephenson, he attended the International Congress on the Systematics and Ecology of Myxomycetes (ICSEM 7) in Recife, Brazil and was one of the 3 speakers for the roundtable forum-discussion on “Filling in the blank spots on the map: Where future studies of Myxomycetes need to be carried out” . He also attended the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Enrichment Regional Seminar in Atlanta, Georgia. This 5-day activity focused on human rights and democracy and was attended by Fulbright scholars from different countries including several fellows from the Philippines.

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