Protect Biodiversity, Defend Human Medicine Bank
From the well-known artemisinin to willow bark; from penicillin and morphine to some of the most effective cancer chemotherapy drugs… Since ancient times, nature has been a reservoir of human medicine! However, according to the British “Guardian” website recently reported that the loss of biodiversity caused by human activities is putting this medical library at risk. Scientists have also adopted a variety of methods to use the power of science and technology to defend this precious resource.
Ancient natural medicine library
Before the advent of words, humans have been using the products of nature to treat diseases. The first documented evidence involved a 5,000-year-old soil slope discovered in Nagpur, India. According to records, there are more than 250 kinds of plants on that soil slope. In addition, the origin of traditional Chinese medicine can be traced back thousands of years.
Including penicillin, morphine and some of the most effective cancer chemotherapy drugs we use today are all from nature. According to data provided by the World Health Organization, 11% of the world’s essential drugs come from flowering plants.
In the 1950s, people extracted a natural alkaloid called “galantamine” from the rhizomes of snowdrops. Nowadays, a synthetic similar drug is used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, and scientists are further studying to determine whether snowdrops can effectively treat AIDS.
Recently, scientists have discovered farnesol in fruits and herbs that can be used to treat Parkinson’s disease. Coincidentally, in June of this year, scientists isolated a molecule from the leaves of European chestnut trees and found that it has the effect of neutralizing drug-resistant staphylococci.
Novel drugs are spread all over the world. The fungus that grows in the hair of sloths can be used to destroy parasites and bacteria and treat cancer; medicines extracted from snake venom can treat heart disease; scientists even discovered a marine bacteria living in 2000 meters deep water, hope it will be Brain cancer provides treatment. In addition, in order to protect themselves or to prey, insects have evolved a variety of chemical mixtures. Certain antibacterial compounds can be used as antiviral drugs or anticancer drugs. The venom of certain wasps is also believed to kill cancer cells.
Botanist Cassandra Queve of Emory University in the United States said: “Today, approximately 700,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant infections globally each year. It is estimated that by 2050, 10 million people will die from antibiotics each year. Drug-resistant infections. I think nature is the key to overcoming these and other emerging health threats.”
In addition to providing novel drugs for humans, natural resources can also be used to promote research or medical work. For example, for a long time, the blue blood of horseshoe crab has been used to monitor impurities in medicines and vaccines, and used in the development of new coronavirus vaccines. The microalgae called diatoms have a porous cell wall structure and can be used as a tool to deliver drugs into the body.
Species loss crisis is approaching
However, scientists warn that the unsustainable use of wild medicinal plants and animals is leading to the loss of biodiversity and may limit future access to medicines from nature. Quéffe emphasized: “Just when we need them most, we are at risk of losing many important species.”
A report released in 2020 by the Royal Botanic Gardens pointed out that the increasing demand for naturally-derived medicines is a driving factor leading to the loss of biodiversity. For example, the Pacific yew tree was the original source of the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel and was listed as an endangered species by the World Conservation Union, but its number is still declining and is heading for extinction. Melanie Jayne House, a researcher at the Royal Botanic Gardens Biochemistry Research Center, said: “It takes thousands of Pacific yew trees to get enough paclitaxel for clinical use.”
Other factors affecting the disappearance of species include pollution, over-utilization of natural resources, introduction of invasive species, changes in land use, and degradation caused by urbanization and agriculture.
It is estimated that the current rate of species loss is 1,000 to 10,000 times the rate of natural extinction. Although it is impossible to know exactly how many species live on the earth, we do know that species extinction is accelerating. According to estimates by the World Wide Fund for Nature, in less than 50 years, the number of wild animals has decreased by more than two-thirds; the World Conservation Union estimates that almost one-third of species are at risk of extinction.
House said: “People only use the characteristics of a relatively small number of species. Some chemicals produced by plants and fungi are very complex, and we still cannot synthesize them. Alkali etc.”
Multi-pronged approach to protect biodiversity
House said that an in-depth understanding of phytochemistry can help scientists obtain medicines from nature in a more sustainable way, thereby protecting the source of these basic medicines for future generations.
House explained: “We now have a better understanding of the biosynthetic pathways, that is, the way plants and fungi produce chemicals. We can transfer these biosynthetic pathways to other organisms, such as yeast, and make yeast cell factories. Take on the role of manufacturing these medicinal chemicals, thereby reducing the need to collect species from the wild. This method has been promoted and has successfully increased the production of artemisinin.”
In the Royal Botanic Gardens, specimens from all over the world are stored in the seed bank. The staff discovers and preserves new species by reading the DNA of plants and fungi. They are studying the degree of threats faced by species, and put the endangered species on the Red List of Endangered Species of the World Conservation Union to better protect them. In biodiversity hotspots such as the tropics, the Royal Botanic Gardens is raising local people’s awareness of the importance of plants and influencing the local government to better protect plants and their habitats.
Elsewhere, artificial intelligence and citizen scientists are using apps to help identify species. They developed an open source genetic database designed to sequence the genomes of all life on earth.
House, Queff and others wrote in a report: “The advancement of science and technology provides opportunities for discovering new molecules from nature, provides a large number of ways to synthesize them, and provides a more sustainable source method for the world Potential solutions to health challenges lay the foundation.”