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Bio-Prospecting in the Rainforest

By: C.M.Shorter
Rainforest Flowers
Rainforest Flowers

As discussed in our TigerHomes article about Poison Dart Frogs, drugs derived from the Periwinkle Plant are used in modern day chemotherapy to fight cancer.  In fact, two drugs obtained from the Madagascar Periwinkle discovered in the Rainforest of Madagascar, unfortunately now extinct in the wild due to deforestation, have increased the survival rate of children diagnosed with Childhood Leukemia from 20% to 80%.  The U.S. National Cancer Institute has identified more than 3,000 plants that are active against cancer cells and more than half of those plants are found only in the Rainforests of the world.

As bacterial, virile and fungi pathogens are constantly mutating and becoming resistant to our mainstream drug treatment, plant derivative cures are thought to possibly hold remedy answers.  Many experts believe if we are to find cures for diseases such as Hepatitis, Pneumonia, Tuberculosis and HIV, perhaps even a cure for the worldwide AIDS epidemic, it will probably originate from the biodiversity within the Rainforest.   These scientific research methods are called “Bio-Prospecting” as researchers search for the secrets that lie in the Rainforest.

Many major pharmaceutical companies have significant investments, brick & mortar scientific study centers and hands-on researchers currently exploring the Amazon Rainforest.  Cures are sought through the natural plant properties and many are in the process of manufacturing synthetic drugs to replicate these natural healing powers.

Flowering green plants (angiosperms) comprise near 80% of the world’s flowering species, most of which are found in the Rainforests.   Plants found in the Rainforest are extremely rich in secondary metabolites especially alkaloids.  Scientists have long studied the medicinal value and benefits of the of these plants. Biochemists believe it is these high alkaloid properties that protect the plants from disease and insects.  The diversity of plants found in the Rainforest is greater per square mile than anywhere else on earth.  In an area of just 2.5 acres of tropical Rainforest one may find as many as 750 different species of trees and 
1,500 different species of plants! 

The Rainforest holds many natural, holistic health secrets that have been used by mankind for centuries.  These plant remedies may or may not be supported by scientific studies.  For instance, a gum or paste is derived from the seeds of an evergreen vine indigenous to the Amazon Basin called Guaraná is widely used in herbal preparations.  Guaraná seed extract is used as a natural remedy to increase athletic performance, reduce fatigue, and help with weight loss and obesity.  While Suma, commonly called  Brazilian Ginseng, is derived from a large woody vine native to the forests of the Amazon and other Latin American rainforest regions.  Suma is claimed an ancient Brazilian folk remedy used as an immune enhancer and to combat stress, but more recently studied and used as a homeopathic remedy for its pfaffoside (anti-tumor) properties to reduce and fight cancer cells.  Often each part of the plant may have a different medicinal attribute – the leaves, the stalks, and the roots of the same plant may each contain different nutrient properties.  Brazil Nuts have long been known to have a high natural level of zinc.  The high concentrations of the alpha-linolenic acid found in nuts has been used in modern science to combat prostate cancer.

Myths and ancient lore originally brought Old World explorers to the Americas into this region in search of treasure – gold, silver & precious gemstones.  It was Portuguese explorers who colonized present day Brazil.  Many came in hopes of finding the mythical “Eldorado”, a city made entirely of gold daring to face the women “Amazon Warriors” who where said to stand its guard.   Botanical scientists have long sought the plants of the Rainforest for medicinal values and extensive use in pharmaceutical & holistic treatments of human illnesses.   They seek out the “Keepers of the Rainforest Secrets” being the indigenous Indian shaman or tribal “Medicine Men” who are the keepers of the ancient secrets of the health & healing properties and many benefits derived from the plants of the Rainforest.   Today, there are many who call these very secrets the “modern gold” of the Rainforest.

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