Rainforest Wealth and Wonder – a Source of Future Cures?
If the Amazon were a country, it would be the world's ninth greatest, spreading over one billion acres of land and taking in Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela and the Eastern Andes.
We've long known that it's a crucial element of the planet's environmental structure, acting as the planet's lungs to continuously recycle carbon dioxide output, into useful oxygen. In fact, it produces over 20% of Earth's oxygen.
Additionally, the Amazon is home to over 10 million animal, plant and insect species and its basin holds a fifth of Earth's fresh water supply.
It provides us with a wealth of natural gifts, such fruits, vegetables and spices and yet scientists are particularly interested in the Amazon for the range of potential cures and scientific discoveries it may yield. Already, biochemists have found that the rainforest plants are rich in alkaloids - which protect plants from insects and disease and indicate medicinal benefit for animals and humans.
Plant-derived sources are already found in 121 of our prescription drugs and up to a quarter of Western pharmaceuticals are based on ingredients derived from the rainforest. The wealth yet to be found is sobering - scientists have only still managed to test around 2% of the Amazon's plants.
Already, the American Cancer Institute has worked to identify around 3000 plans that provide active protection against cancer cells, of which 60% are found in the Amazon rainforest. A whole quarter of cancer-fighting drugs' active ingredients are found from plants and sources found only in the rainforest - another sobering reason for protecting it at all costs. Vincristine is today one of the world's most powerful drugs against cancer and it originates from the rainforest periwinkle plant.
Since that discovery, over one hundred scientific and pharmaceutical companies are engaged in research projects within the Amazon, to find cures and drugs for some of the most serious diseases, infections, cancers and viruses in the world today.