This month we feature PhilRice Scientist Dr. Roel R. Suralta. Doc Roel’s papers on root plasticity in rice are published in top-tier journals and have hundreds of citations from researchers in the Philippines and abroad.

Colorful college life

Coming from a small community high school in Camotes Islands in Cebu, Doc Roel was dwarfed by the atmosphere at the Visayas State University (then Leyte State University) when he entered college in 1990. That time he thought he was really good in Math so he took Agricultural Engineering.

After a semester, he shifted to agriculture.

“This may be funny but I took BS Agriculture just so I could escape from the complexities of engineering,” says Doc Roel.

Aside from escaping the rather complex engineering world, Doc Roel, while working as a student assistant, was lured to agriculture upon realizing that there are vast opportunities in it.

He studied hard and graduated, unexpectedly, as cum laude.

“I did have grades that were pretty close to the borderline; hence, graduating with honors came as a surprise,” says Doc Roel.

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Why root plasticity

For his PhD, Doc Roel proposed something about hybrid rice but one of his supervisors was not very excited about it.

“I talked to former PhilRice Executive Director Leo Sebastian, and he challenged me to study something new and unique,” he says.

Back then, quite a number of breeders, within and outside PhilRice, were already working on environmental stresses—an area that he was also interested to contribute. Most of the studies, however, were on the leaves, shoots, and grains. Hence, Doc Roel saw the opportunity to look into the roots of the rice plant.

Years of productive research on root plasticity has enabled Doc Roel to contribute significantly to crop science. His studies, along with colleagues from PhilRice and Nagoya University, have thus far offered new perspectives on rice root adaptation during drought and excessive flooding.

Root plasticity is the ability of the roots to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Doc Roel is a multi-awarded scientist. He is a recipient of the highly selective Presidential Lingkod Bayan Award given by the Civil Service Commission.

As a scholar in Japan

In 2004, just about 4 months after he got married, he flew to Japan for his PhD at the Nagoya University. It was not very complicated then. Yahoo Messenger facilitated the communication between him and his wife, Mae.

His second time in Japan for his postdoctoral fellowship in 2013 proved otherwise. It was difficult to leave his family. Research and nostalgia, he found, were an odd combination.

While in Japan, he got sick and thought of going back home.

“I almost gave up my postdoctoral research but I told myself I had to finish it,” says Doc Roel. What he did then was to fly back to the Philippines, almost monthly, so he could be with his family.

Spreading knowledge

Aside from being a research fellow in Japan, Doc Roel also mentored young Japanese researchers. In the Philippines, he does the same with some students from the Central Luzon State University.

Doc Roel is currently the team lead of the Golden Rice Project at PhilRice. He is based at the PhilRice Central Experiment Station in Nueva Ecija.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) is a government corporate entity attached to the Department of Agriculture created through Executive Order 1061 on 5 November 1985 (as amended) to help develop high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute