Natural Products & Medicinal Resources

Livelihood Security & Freedom from Poverty

Food Security & Dietary Health

Emerging Infectious Disease

Natural Products & Medicinal Resources

Disaster Prevention, Relief & Recovery

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Poison dart frog in Bromeliad
Biodiversity is vital to modern and traditional medicinal practices, particularly in the face of the global problems of increasing antibiotic resistance and emerging infectious diseases. Biodiversity loss severely restricts our potential future resources for the treatment of illness, and threatens the growth of economic activities based on natural products.

Throughout the developing world, many millions of people rely directly upon traditional wisdom and indigenous knowledge for their health and livelihood security. This knowledge is associated with the gathering and cultivation of foods, clothing and building materials, with local cultural traditions, and with systems of traditional medicines, which support entire populations. In technologically advanced countries, the vast majority of this indigenous knowledge has been lost to society, and is of little consequence to modern "Western" lifestyles. However, up to 57% of the top 150 medicinal compounds currently on sale in the U.S. have some basis or origin in exploration from wild species, while 50% of modern prescription medicines are based on compounds originally discovered in plants. Modern drugs derived from wild species include pain killers (e.g. Zinconitide from cone snail toxin), cardiac drugs (e.g. Lanoxin from Digitalis plants), anti-malarials (e.g. Quinine from Cinchona trees), hormone mimetics (e.g. Exenatide from Gila monster venom) and anti-cancer drugs (e.g. Taxol from Taxus trees and Hycamtin from Camptotheca trees). New discoveries continue to be made - recent studies on compounds extracted from sea anemones have shown potential therapeutic applications in treating autoimmune diseases such as diabetes and arthritis. Many other potentially important species are yet to be investigated.

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Gila monster, Arizona desert
Bioprospecting - the exploration and exploitation of chemical compounds from natural sources - can represent a valuable tool for both conservation and economic development. However, unsustainable patterns of exploitation which impact on biodiversity can jeopardize these resources. The livelihoods and health of indigenous communities in many regions may also be threatened where traditional knowledge systems are exploited without respect for the owners of that knowledge and without due consideration for the principles of equitable access and benefit sharing.

There is a need to ensure that bioprospecting respects and preserves traditional knowledge systems, and involves local communities in a manner that values and protects habitats and species, creates local business opportunities and supports the continuance of local cultural traditions. This requires direct engagement and collaboration with the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, national institutes of health and medicine, and research funding agencies worldwide.

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