World Wide Fund for Nature, (WWF
The information below is taken from:
WWF Biological Diversity Campaign Fact Sheet 4.
If reproduced, please give credit to: WWF
The fact sheets form part of WWFs Biological Diversity Campaign which was launched on 30 March 1989. As part of the campaign, WWF published a more comprehensive 30-page statement entitled, The Importance of Biological Diversity, which has been endorsed by 10 of the worlds top scientists and environmentalists. The statement gives a basic understanding of what biological diversity is, why it is important for everyone in the world and what can be done to conserve it. For a free copy of the statement, write to Soh-Koon Chng, WWF International, and the address above.
The following are just a few examples of how protecting biological diversity - the variety of flora and fauna - can also protect our health.
· Vincristine and vinblastine, from the Madagascan rosy periwinkle Catharanthus roseus are used to treat childhood leukemia and Hodgkins disease.
· Reserpine, extracted from the small Indian snakeroot shrub Rauvolfia serpentina is used in tranquilizers.
· Digitoxin, from the European foxglove Digitalis purpurea is a powerful regulator of erratic hearts.
· Diosgenin from the Mexican yam Dioscorea elephantipes is used in the treatment of rheumatism and to produce oral contraceptives.
· The mayapple Podophyllum peltatum, used by American Indians to treat warts, has provided a blueprint for a new drug to treat testicular cancer.
· Tubocurarine from Chondrodendron tomentosum, a chief ingredient of curare from the Amazon, is used as a muscle relaxant.
· Comfrey Symphytum officinale is now the source of allantoine, a wound-healing agent formerly obtained by the application of sheep blow-fly larvae to wounds.
· Mandrake of the Solonaceae family, mentioned in the Bible and by Plato, yields the important sedative hyoscine; under the name of scopolamine it remains the standard pre-operative medication.
· The chanca piedra leaf is commonly used by Peruvian Amazon Indians to reduce and expel gall and kidney stones.
· Many South American tribes use a tea brewed from Erythroxylum coca leaves to ease pain, cure attitude sickness and as an antidepressant.
· The bitter yellow leaves of the fenu-greek plant Trigonella foenum-graecum are used in India to help alleviate the effects of diabetes.
· A tea brewed from a shrub called Maesa lanceolata is used by Kenyan medicine men to combat cholera.
· The Barasana of Colombia use the dried and pounded spadix of unripe lilies (Araceae) as an oral contraceptive.
· In China, fresh cotton seed Gossypium barbadense oil provides the male oral contraceptive gossypol.
· The autumn crocus Colchicum autumnale was used in Arab medicine for treating gout at least as long ago as the tenth century AD.
· A distillation made from sandalwood (Santalum species) is used in Pakistan to treat infections of the urinary tract.
· The Achual Jivaro Indians in Peru chew a plant called yana muco which appears to prevent tooth decay.
· Quinine from the cinchona tree Cinchona ledgeriana is used to fight malaria.
· Scientists use extracts from an Amazonian oak and an Australian chestnut to coagulate proteins in their attempts to develop AIDS vaccines.
· Some scientists estimate that as many as 1400 plant species in tropical forests offer potential cures for cancer.
· Among drugs now produced synthetically but with natural origins, we can count aspirin, first discovered in Meadowsweet Spirea ulmaria; the anaesthetic lignocaine, based on cocaine; and alkaloids based on quinine.
· A little sea squirt (Tunicata) produces a compound called didemnin B, a drug which is now being tested for anti-cancer properties.
· A Caribbean sponge (Porifera) provided a model for the synthesis of ara-c, now used in tumour treatment.
· Highly active chemicals found in sea hares (Nudibrancha), soft corals, sea whips and sea fans (Coelenterata) secrete chemicals with potential anti-tumour activity.
· Leeches (Hirudinia) produce at least eight medical chemicals, including hirudin, a powerful anticoagulant.
· Maggot (Diptera) saliva contains bacteria that secrete powerful antibiotic chemicals.
· Chinese health experts say that powder made from ants (Formicidae) can cure rheumatoid arthritis.
· Bee (Apis species) venom is used in the treatment of arthritis.
· Worldwide, the commercial value of medicines based on natural products is over US$20 billion a year.
· Economic value of good health (such as wages not lost and hospitals that do not have to be built) could be as high as US$1800 billion a year for OECD* countries alone.
* OECD - Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development. It is the principal economic organization of the industrialized countries of the North.