During my lectures on cell division I tell my plant biology students that if there is only one reason they could ever care about the environment or ecology then they should be concerned about the loss of plant biodiversity, especially in the tropical rainforests. Reason being is that in the medical treatment of cancer we have two main successes, both using chemical compounds produced by plants. Vincristine is used in the treatment of childhood leukemia with good success and Vinblastine has fairly good results with Hodgkin’s Disease. One came from the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and the other from a plant in the tropics. Plants synthesize these compounds for use in defense and they work the same way in the cells of our bodies as they do in the plant cell. We are not even close to being able to dream up chemical compounds like these in the laboratory. Maybe in a hundred or two hundred years, just as likely never. There are other compounds in plants waiting to be discovered in the tropical rainforests that undoubtedly have the same or greater medical potential as Vincristine and Vinblastine. The problem is that many parts of tropical rainforest are being cleared, sending hundreds of plant species to extinction, never to be examined by humans. These plant species have never even been given a scientific name. We are seeing a great potential benefit to humanity being erased from the planet forever.
Just a small thought on Earth Day….