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Current Lab Members


Cecilia Conaco, PhD


Cecilia is fascinated by neuronal development and early animal evolution. She is also interested in the regulatory networks that control gene expression dynamics underlying the ability of many marine organisms to rapidly respond and adapt to their environment.

  • Post-doctoral Fellow, Neuroscience Research Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara (2012)

  • PhD Molecular and Cellular Biology, Stony Brook University, New York (2007)



Niño Dan Posadas

University research assistant and graduate student

Niño is interested in understanding the responses of corals, sponges, and their associated microbial assemblages to anthropogenic stressors. He is currently investigating the impacts of coastal acidification on the stress response and skeletogenesis of calcareous sponges.

  • BS Fisheries, University of the Philippines Visayas (2016)



Jake Ivan Baquiran

Research assistant

Jake is interested in determining the response of marine sponges and their microbiome to eutrophication pressure. He also aims to understand the effects of environmental stressors on the community structure, physiology, growth, microbiome composition, and gene expression responses of sponges and other reef-associated macroalgae species.

  • Project: DOST-PCAARRD Coastal Acidification Program (2018-2021); ACIAR (2021)

  • Masters thesis: For better or for worse: Sponge-microbe partnership in the midst of eutrophication pressure (May 2018)



Michael Angelou Nada

Graduate student

Mike is interested in exploring the diversity and functional roles of microbial symbionts in sponges. He aims to better understand how sponge-symbiont interactions influence host adaptation and processes in the marine environment.

  • Project: DOST-PCAARRD Coastal Acidification Program (2018-2021); UPGRADE-CIA (2021)

  • BS Biology, Southern Luzon State University (2012)



Keana Dehnielle Tan

Graduate student

Keana’s research interests are in molecular biology and its application towards improving giant clam mariculture. Her current work focuses on examining the molecular mechanisms underlying giant clam growth and development. She aims to develop transcriptome sequence resources for selected species of giant clams and identify the genetic toolkit underlying  reproduction and early life history.

  • Project: DOST-PCAARRD Giant Clam Program (2018-2021)

  • BS Biochemistry, University of Santo Tomas (2017)



Hazell Valencia

Graduate student

Hazell is interested in investigating the influence of geography on the microbial community of marine sponges. She also aims to understand the contribution of other factors to variability in sponge microbiomes.

  • BS Biology, University of the East (2017)



Laurence Benig

Graduate student

Laurence is studying the ability of sponges as environmental DNA (eDNA) filters for biodiversity studies. Specifically, he is using eDNA metabarcoding of selected sponge species to survey fish biodiversity at various sites.

  • BS Molecular Biology and Biotechnology - University of the Philippines Diliman (2018)



Gabriella Maala

Graduate student

Gab is interested in assisted evolution of marine organisms and their gene expression under varying environmental conditions. She aims to help in developing novel approaches to marine conservation by exploring interspecific hybridization. She is currently investigating the thermal stress response and transcriptome profiles of giant clam hybrids.

  • BS Biology, University of the Philippines Los Baños (2019)



Kelly Rome Publico

Graduate student

Kelly is interested in understanding the molecular responses of marine invertebrates to environmental stress. He is currently studying the molecular mechanisms underlying the responses of corals to artificial light at night. He aims to gain insights on how this will impact aspects of coral biology, such as reproduction.

  • BS Biology, University of the Philippines Manila (2019)



Aubrey Joy Tejada

Graduate student

Aubrey is interested in exploring the bacterial microbiome of giant clams using molecular approaches. She aims to reveal functional bacterial symbionts that may have a significant role in immune response, nutrition, and disease resistance of giant clams.

  • BS Fisheries, University of the Philippines Visayas (2017)



Blaire Padayhag

Graduate student

Blaire is currently investigating how changes in water quality due to mariculture impacts the development of the microbial biofilm community in coastal reef ecosystems and how this may affect coral settlement. Through a molecular-based approach, Blaire hopes to understand the mechanisms at play between microbially-induced settlement and eutrophication due to mariculture activities.

  • BS Fisheries, University of the Philippines, Visayas (2013)



Kris Punayan

Graduate student

Kris is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying the coral response towards environmental stimuli using a functional genomics approach. Specifically, she aims to investigate the roles of GPCRs in the coral stress response and in the stability of the host-symbiont relationship.

  • BS Marine Biology, Mindanao State University, General Santos City (2013)



Krista Iris Melgarejo

Graduate student (co-advised with Dr. Giovanni Tapang, National Institute of Physics, University of the Philippines, Diliman)

Krista is interested in looking at the effects of environmental stress on the giant clam, Tridacna gigas, by looking at their gene expression responses. She hopes that this will contribute knowledge to restocking and monitoring efforts. Aside from her love for molecular biology and biotechnology, she has a growing interest in oceanographic instrumentation, a field which she thinks will play a vital role in research for countries like the Philippines.


  • BS Food Technology, University of the Philippines, Mindanao (2013)


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