By: Miguel de Leon, MD
Before I discharge the duty imposed upon me by my scheming classmates, I would like to talk briefly about taxonomy and what it means for all of us.
Essentially taxonomy is the science of classifying organisms. Broadly, organisms are classified to six major groups or kingdoms: animaliae, plantae, fungi, protista, archeobacteria and bacteria. Taxonomy gives a particular organism its identity and placement in the order of living things. The scientific name of a particular organism is the one name that is used by scientists and citizens from whatever nationality to refer to it. Regardless of time and changing concepts, an organism’s scientific name is fairly constant.
A scientific name consists of two parts, the genus name and the specific epithet. An example is the scientific name of the Philippine Eagle, Pithecophaga jefferyi. Pithecophaga is the genus name and jefferyi is the specific epithet.
An organism is given a scientific name by its discoverer or the researchers studying it. It can be named after a place like, for example, the cobra from Samar whose scientific name is Naja samarensis. It can be named for a particular trait of the organism like Pseudomonas aeruginosa or it can be named after a person or persons. As for the Philippine eagle, its discoverer John Whitehead asked an ornithologist to name it in honor of his father Jeffrey, hence, the specific epithet jefferyi.
The Philippine Eagle was discovered in 1896. To this day, more than a century since, it still bears the name of its discoverer’s father.
An example closer to home is the bacteria genus Listeria which was named after Dr. Joseph Lister, a British surgeon who pioneered aseptic surgery in the late 1800’s.
The Philippines is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. We have many species of plants and animals that are endemic to the country. Despite having lost much of our forests, many new species continue to be discovered.
The orchid biodiversity of the Philippines reminds me of the delightfully diverse personalities of my classmates most of whom I have not seen for 25 years. And so, while geography and time have separated us, I thought of honoring my classmates with two special orchid species as I thought of the day I will be reunited with them.
Medical training is almost paradoxic, for how could the years be both demanding yet delightful, exhausting yet enriching? Perhaps the human spirit has a way of thriving and finding happiness in the direst of circumstances. But I suspect it is more that I have been blessed with a rare kind of classmates.
If I had been providentially given a class like no other, I am certain it is equally providential that I found two orchids not just to honor my class but to express my affection for my classmates as well.
Over time, the tale of the Philippine Eagle’s discovery in 1896 may have been forgotten. The revolutionary contribution of Sir Joseph Lister in 1867 and how he changed surgical outcomes forever may have been overshadowed by later developments; yet, the scientific names that bear the honorees’ names remain to this day.
And so it is with Class 1995. In time, the delightful personalities of my classmates, the memories and the achievements of my class will be forgotten or overshadowed when all of us in this room are long gone or have become history or a mere idea. But the orchids that bear the name of my class and the silver anniversary in the year 2020 will remain.
Well, we have come full circle, haven’t we?
A scientific name is forever.
I am honored to present to you Aerides turma and Aerides turma forma anniversarius. Thank you.