Hundreds of medicinal plants are at risk
of extinction, threatening the discovery of future cures
for disease, according to experts.
Over 50% of prescription drugs are derived
from chemicals first identified in plants.
But the Botanic Gardens Conservation
International said many were at risk from over-collection
Researchers warned the cures for things
such as cancer and HIV may become "extinct before they
are ever found".
The group, which represents botanic gardens
across 120 countries, surveyed over 600 of its members
as well as leading university experts.
Cures At Most Risk
- Cancer drug paclitaxel is derived from the bark,
but it takes six trees to create a single dose
so growers are struggling to keep up
Hoodia - Plant has sparked interest for its
ability to suppress appetite, but vast quantities
have already been "ripped from the wild" as the
search for the miracle weight drug continues
Magnolia - Has been used in traditional Chinese
medicine for 5,000 years as it is believed to
help fight cancer, dementia and heart disease.
Half the world's species threatened, mostly due
Autumn crocus - Romans and Greeks used it
as poison, but now one of the most effective treatments
for gout. Under threat from horticulture trade
They identified 400 plants that were
at risk of extinction.
These included yew trees, the bark of
which forms the basis for one of the world's most widely
used cancer drugs, paclitaxel.
Hoodia, which originally comes from Namibia
and is attracting interest from drug firms looking into
developing weight loss drugs, is on the verge of extinction,
the report said.
And half of the world's species of magnolias
are also under threat.
The plant contains the chemical honokiol,
which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to
treat cancers and slow down the onset of heart disease.
The report also said autumn crocus, which
is a natural treatment for gout and has been linked to
helping fight leukaemia, is at risk of over-harvest as
it is popular with the horticultural trade because of
its stunning petals.
Many of the chemicals from the at-risk
plants are now created in the lab.
But the report said as well as future
breakthroughs being put at risk, the situation was likely
to have a consequence in the developing world.
It said five billion people still rely
on traditional plant-based medicine as their primary form
of health care.
Report author Belinda Hawkins said: "The
loss of the world's medicinal plants may not always be
at the forefront of the public consciousness.
"However, it is not an overstatement
to say that if the precipitous decline of these species
is not halted, it could destabilise the future of global
And Richard Ley, of the Association of
the British Pharmaceutical Industry, added: "Nature has
provided us with many of our medicines.
"Scientists are always interested in
what they can provide and so it is a worry that such plants
may be at risk."
Reference Source 108