Unregulated fires, illicit logging, clear-cutting for agriculture, and climate change-induced degradation. These are just a few of the threats facing the modern rainforest.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, 17 percent of the Amazon rainforests have been lost in the past 50 years. On top of that, NPR reported that deforestation rates in 2016 were the highest they’ve been since 2008, increasing 29 percent overall from the previous year.
And while many people understand the problems associated with rainforest deforestation, such as the climatological impacts on the global environment (the WWF reports that 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions are a result of deforestation), fewer people understand how the loss of rainforest biodiversity affects the modern medical establishment
More than 7,000 medical compounds used in clinical practice today are derived from plants not only from the rainforest, but worldwide.
Here is a small list of medications NOT from the rainforest.
- Penicillin –First discovered in Penicillium fungi, a mold growing as contaminant in a Petri dish in laboratory.
- Aspirin – One of aspirin’s key ingredients, salicylic acid, is found in the bark of the willow tree. The plant has been used as a natural method of pain relief by different cultures for thousands of years.
- Digitalis – A heart drug, Digitalis is derived from the extract of the Foxglove, an ornamental plant common in many parts of the world.
- Vincristine, vinblastine- Chemotherapies derived from the Madagascar periwinkle plant.
Rainforest-derived medications examples:
Quinine– Derived from the cinchona tree in South America to treat malaria.
Curare- A derivative from the bark of the curare lianas vine, used to treat multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
Novocaine, cocaine- Derived from the coca bean in South America, a local anesthetic.
Many plant species from the rainforest are already identified as having therapeutic potential and are under investigation. How many more will be lost before scientists can study them? And at what cost to humanity?