Dr. Maribel G. Nonato obtained her doctoral degree in Organic Chemistry with specialization on Natural Products Chemistry from the University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia in 1993. Upon her return to the University of Santo Tomas, Dr. Nonato resumed her research activities at the Research Center for the Natural Sciences (RCNS) were she pioneered research on the Phytochemistry and Biological Activities of Philippine grown species of the Genus Pandanus (Family Pandanaceae). The main goal of the research is the discovery of novel or new bioactive secondary metabolites from the Genus Pandanus. It is the future goal of the project to develop the plants into herbal products.
Monocots are rarely tapped as source of bioactive secondary metabolites. The Genus Pandanus is a monocot comprising of about 450species with about 20 species endemic to the country. There were very limited works reported on Pandanus when Dr. Nonato started her work on the world of pandans in 1991. An initial engagement was established with the late Dr. Benjamin Stone, the world renowned Pandanus botanist who was then working with the National Museum on a project focused on the inventory of Philippine medicinal plants. Dr. Stone was delighted to hear of someone interested to work on the group of plants that feature prickled, fibrous and hard leaves. Unfortunately, because of Dr. Stone’s untimely death while in the Philippines, the partnership did not prosper. But that did not stop Dr. Nonato from continuing her passion to discover the virtues of the Genus Pandanus to add values on their known medicinal and handicraft uses.
The novelty of the Pandanus alkaloids merited an invitation to write a chapter on the book series “The Alkaloids: Chemistry and Biology” in 2008 acknowledging the contribution of Dr. Nonato to the Chemistry of Alkaloids. So far the study on Philippine grown Pandanus species revealed the presence of alkaloids in two Pandanus species, P. amaryllifolius and P. dubius. Dr. Nonato’s research on the novel alkaloids of Pandanus earned her the 2006 National Research Council of the Philippines Achievement Award in Chemical Sciences. To better understand the biogenesis of the Pandanus alkaloids which so far were found to be limited in two Pandanus species she conducted studies on the endophytic fungi thriving on the leaves of P. amaryllifolius. The research led to the discovery of new secondary metabolites with new biological activities. Neighboring countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand started to undertake similar researches on their Pandanus species. Biological studies on the Pandanus species reveled the potential of these plants as source of antimicrobials, antiviral, diuretics, antituberculars, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.
Dr. Maribel G. Nonato is presently the Vice Rector for Research and Innovation at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), first female and lay person to assume the post since September 2014. She had served the University of Santo Tomas as administrator in different capacities: Director of Research Center for the Natural Sciences, acting Assistant to the Rector for Research and Development, Dean of the College of Science and Assistant to the Rector for Research and Innovation.