U of U biologists Phyllis Coley and Tom Kursar spent five years working in Panama to conserve rainforests and promote economic development by stimulating a native industry aimed at finding new medicines in rainforest plants.
Credit: Tom Kursar & Phyllis Coley
Plants develop chemical defenses to survive attackes by insects such as these grasshoppers. Those chemicals sometimes can be developed into medicines to combat human diseases.
Credit: Robin Foster, Field Museum, Chicago
Exploit Plant Defenses, Build Local Drug Discovery Industry
Misty-eyed idealism alone will not save Earth’s dwindling tropical rainforests. But a five-year, $3 million study in Panama indicates rainforests can be protected if the pharmaceutical industry establishes Third World laboratories and hires local researchers to look for new medicines extracted from plants that evolved defenses against insects.
“Until now, efforts to find drugs in the rainforest haven’t really led to rainforest conservation,” says Tom Kursar, an associate professor of biology at the University of Utah, who led the study with his wife, biology Professor Phyllis Coley. “But we have developed a novel approach that provides a direct link between looking for drugs and promoting conservation and economic development in biodiversity-rich countries.”
Phyllis Coley | University of Utah
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