Clara Lim-Sylianco

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Clara Lim-Sylianco (August 18, 1925-July 23, 2013) was a Filipina National Scientist widely regarded for her contributions in the fields of biochemistry and organic chemistry, particularly on mutagens, antimutagens, and bioorganic mechanisms.

Early Life and Education

She was born on August 18, 1925, in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental. She took her pre-Medicine in Silliman University, and graduated with a degree in Associate in Arts major in Chemistry with highest honors in 1947. In 1948, she finished a Bachelor of Science in the same university and graduated magna cum laude. In 1949, she obtained her BS Chemisty, also magna cum laude. She took her MS in Chemistry at the University of the Philippines (UP) from 1949 to 1953. After graduation, she left as a Fulbright Scholar for the United States to pursue her Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Organic Chemistry at the University of Iowa. She graduated in 1957. Her PhD research was about the mechanism of action of the B vitamins on the metabolism of tryptophan by liver and kidney tissue. She studied the effect of the structure of histidine on its metabolism for her postdoctoral work.

Career and Contributions

On her return to the country, Sylianco focused on the studies of the ability of Philippine plants to protect themselves against mutagens. She joined the UP Department of Chemistry as an Assistant Professor from 1957 to 1963. She became an Associate Professor in 1965 and a full Professor in 1970. She discovered that the extract of some 50 plants from the Philippines like ampalaya (bitter gourd, Momordica charantia), malunggay (Moringa olifeira) can protect the cells against effects of certain mutagens found in some antibiotics. She also discovered that the refined coconut oil can protect the body against some chemical carcinogens found in food and the environment.

A study on street soils from areas in Manila showed their mutagenic activity which was related to the levels of benzopyrene, a potent carcinogen from diesel exhaust absorbed by the soils. Sylianco's discoveries on environmental mutagens culminated in the designation of her laboratory at UP as an international training center for the detection of chemical mutagens by the Research Planning in Biological Sciences, Washington, D.C., in 1986. She was then appointed as a member of the International Advisory Committee on Antimutagens in 1989.

In the early 1960s, Sylianco introduced the teaching of ogranic chemistry at the molecular level at UP. Her students who were also teachers in schools from different parts of the country asked Sylianco to continue teaching them as well as other teachers during summers. Thus, in 1973, the Organic Chemistry Teachers Association was established in 1973. In 1973, the Philippine Biochemical Society, now known as the Philippine Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, was established. It held summer workshops on teaching techniques and laboratory experiments.

Sylianco is the author of more than 50 articles, 7 books, and 5 monographs on organic chemistry, biochemistry, genetic toxicology, and molecular nutrition, which are used as references by college chemistry students all over the Philippines.

Awards and Recognition

For her contributions, Dr. Lim-Sylianco received the Gregorio Y. Zara award, 1977; the UP Endowment Professorial Chair in Chemistry, 1974-1977; was a Fellow of the Royal Society, 1958; Outstanding Scientist Award, 1987; and the Lingkod Bayan Presidential Award, 1988.

She was elected to the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) as Academician in 1980 and was conferred as a National Scientist in 1994 by Former President Fidel Ramos.


Sylianco passed away on July 23, 2013 at the age of 87. A State Necrological Service in her honor was held on July 27 at DOST, followed by Interment at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.


  • DOST-NAST (2000). National Scientists of the Philippines (1978-1998). Anvil Publishing Inc.
  • “Outstanding Filipino Biochemist and National Scientist, CLARA Y. LIM-SYLIANCO, 87”.University of the Philippines Alumni.(Accessed on August 17, 2015).
  • Partlow, Judy Flores.“Silliman University mourns the death of national scientist”.The Philippine Star.(Accessed on August 17, 2015).