photo M. Noonan

Bioprospecting is a word that scientists use to describe the research involved in discovering natural substances in plants and animals that can be used for a plethora of practical uses, such as medicine, food crops and cosmetics.

Although the estimated one million species of flora and fauna in the tropical rainforests are just beginning to be explored, they have already yielded many wonderful new products that are frequently used today. Just a few examples include Curare (which comes from a South American tropical vine and which plays a role in anesthesia for surgery), Vinblastine (which comes from the periwinkle plant and which is used in the treatment of leukemia), and Quinine (which comes from the cinchona tree and which is used to treat malaria).

Scientists estimate that more than 1,400 different species of plants in the rainforest contain chemicals that can potentially cure cancer. However, the chances of discovering these cures, along with the thousands of other herbs beneficial to humans, is diminishing as rainforests continue to disappear.

To learn more about a non-profit organization that supports bioprospecting, called the National Biodiversity Institute (INBio), visit the following website:

CAC is a program of the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.