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Student Editorials

Biodiversity uncovered

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 01 October 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:0510354
  1. Nuruz Zaman, final year medical student1,
  2. Michael Heinrich, professor1
  1. 1Barts and the London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary, University of London

The world is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of exploring the biodiversity of rainforests and of preserving traditional medical knowledge for developing new drugs. Nuruz Zaman and Michael Heinrich explain

According to the World Health Organization, for 75-90% of the rural populations of the world, the local herbalist and other traditional healers are the only source of medical care.1 This translates into three billion people for whom medical care consists of wild harvested medicines provided by local traditional healers.

Even considering these facts as an eye opener, what's possibly more startling is that many of the drugs that clinical medicine is so familiar with were in fact discovered from the herbal remedies of those indigenous people across the world. Well established drugs, such as aspirin, codeine, and quinine, were all developed from plants used medicinally for centuries by various civilisations.

Of the approximately 265 000 flowering species of plants on the planet, less than 1% have been studied in any detail to the point of understanding their composition and medicinal value.2 About half of all plant biodiversity exists in primary rainforests, like the Amazon. But with deforestation and the rapid cultural and …

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