Ok, I know you are thinking I’ve gone completely mad.
But, according to a new book “Sustaining Life”, published by Oxford University, a new generation of antibiotics, new treatments for thinning bone disease and kidney failure, and new cancer treatments may all stand to be lost unless the world acts to reverse the present alarming rate of biodiversity loss.
Which brings us to the southern gastric brooding frog (Rheobatrachus) which was discovered in rainforests of Australia in the 1980s.
The frogs raise their young in the female’s stomach where they would, in other animals, be digested by enzymes and acid. Preliminary studies indicated that the baby frogs produced a substance, or perhaps a variety of substances, that inhibited acid and enzyme secretions and prevented the mother from emptying her stomach into her intestines while the young were developing.
The authors point out that the research on gastric brooding frogs could have led to new insights into preventing and treating human peptic ulcers which affect some 25 million people in the United States alone.
“But these studies could not be continued because both species of Rheobactrachus became extinct, and the valuable medical secrets they held are now gone forever,” say Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein, the key authors of the book based at the Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School.
And you thought I was kidding.
Experts warn that we may lose many of the land and marine-based life forms of economic and medical interest before we can learn their secrets, or, in some cases, before we know they exist.
These findings all in a run-up to the 9th meeting of the parties to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)-linked Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) taking place in Bonn, Germany later in May which will be attended by delegates from 190 countries.
What, no more Gymnosperms?
At the heart of the book is a chapter dedicated to exploring seven threatened groups of organisms valuable to medicine, including amphibians, bears, cone snails, sharks, nonhuman primates, gymnosperms, and horseshoe crabs that underscore what may be lost to human health when species go extinct.
The gymnosperm, a group of spermatophyte (they produce their own seeds) plants with ovules on the edge or blade of an open sporophyll (leaf type structure – yes dummy, this makes them bisexual, so-to-say), which are usually arranged in cone-like structures, some of the oldest plants alive, are endangered.
Why is this a problem, you ask?
Several pharmaceuticals, including decongestants and the anti-cancer drug taxol, have already been isolated from gymnosperms. Researchers believe many more drugs are yet to be discovered and may be lost if gymnosperms become extinct.
Substances from one gymnosperm, the Ginkgo tree may reduce the production of receptors in the human nervous system linked with memory loss. Thus they may play a role in countering Alzheimer’s disease. They may also help in the treatment of epilepsy and depression.
So the next time you are about to step on a cone snail, remember, the species may produce as many as 70,000 to 140,000 peptide compounds, large numbers of which may have value as human medicines, yet only a few hundred have been characterized.
One compound, known as ziconotide, is thought to be 1000 times more potent than morphine.
Oh shit, now I’ve done it. All our readers are going to deplete the population in a run-up to making their own drugs! 😈