Tropical Medicinal Plants-Final
This discussion topic submitted by Laura Meyer (
firstname.lastname@example.org) at 6:39 pm on 6/7/00. Additions were last made on Friday, June 9, 2000.
The tropical rainforest. It conjures up images of pristine lands with indigenous peoples. Although it covers only seven percent of the earth's land mass, it is believed to be the home to over half of earth's life forms. It's physical importance can be traced to such vital ecological services as flood amelioration, and soil conservation. Recent excessive flooding surrounding rainforested areas has proven this to be true! It also plays a key role in climate and carbon dioxide-oxygen exchange. Culturally, it is the home to thousands of indigenous tribes. Traditionally, these people have relied on surrounding plants for a variety of purposes, including preventing and healing various maladies.
If you were to randomly choose any pharmaceutical drug in the Western World, there would be a twenty-five percent chance that the active ingredient in that drug would have the chemical properties of some tropical plant. The majority of our knowledge of the usefulness of plants for medicinal purposes comes from the traditional knowledge of indigenous people. However, this knowledge, along with the plants themselves are in great jeopardy.
Recent evidence suggests that less than one percent of all plant species have been studied to indicate their biomedical potential. This potential might prove promising were it not for the rapid plant species loss due to deforestation of the rainforest, the decline of indigenous knowledge, and the reluctance on the part of pharmacetical companies to conduct ethnobotanical research rather than chemical synthesis of current drugs.
Many leading ethnobotanical scientists believe that the most productive period of medicinal plant research lies ahead. The methods and materials are for the most part currently still available to us, but for how much longer??It was only forty years ago that the first plant became extinct (that we know of), and since that time, scientists now speculate that upwards of twenty-thousand species are now extinct. The most common causes of species loss is due to deforestation. Currently, 1.2 percent of the tropical rainforest is either cleared/or logged annually.
There are many factors which have led to the rapid destruction of the rainforest: Weak governmental policies, an increase in trade liberalization, industrial logging, and human population pressures to name a few. Indigenous peoples are forced to to hand over their lands due to their overwhelming poverty. These people, seeking to clothe and care for their families, have few alternatives, except to clear new land areas every few years for large landowners. One major result of this is that indigenous knowledge is declining. The oral "tradition" of the tribe is being broken down so that only a few in any tribe know the medicinal values of various plant species.
Pharmaceutical companies are not oriented towards natural plant research. Rather, they most commonly place their efforts in chemical research. One of the primary reasons for this is in the difficulty attached to obtaining funding for natural plant research. Secondly, even if funding can be secured, the financial and term cost of the FDA can only be reimbursed iif one finds a new chemical compound, of which this possibility is minute. Only then, would a patent be issued and the company be assured of reimbursement.
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