We all take drugs, in one shape or form. But, how exactly are scientists developing new cures for illnesses such as cancer and heart disease? Since the first antibiotic ‘Penicillin’ was discovered in the 1940s, scientists have developed around 150 new types of antibiotic treatments. However in recent years, discovery has slowed. In the last 34 years, market leader ‘Big Pharma’, has only come up with two new classes of antibiotics. In fact the only new antibiotic currently in development was discovered over 50 years ago, and although kills super bugs, there have been reports of kidney failure to users.
‘Bioprospecting’ is the art of medical exploration. It involves taking everything you find and testing it on everything else, just in case it’s effective. This is a costly and time consuming task, but has come up with a few surprises over the years. So where exactly are we looking for these drugs? Well, it’s in the most unlikely places, think the ‘Amazon Rainforest’ and ‘Great Barrier Reef’. Past discoveries include Ara-C, which is derived from sea sponges and has cancer fighting abilities. Even the female’s drug of choice, chocolate, was discovered from the cocoa, providing us with not only tasty treats, but also caffeine and theobromine, the latter of which is used to treat asthma.
Bioprospecting in these protected habitats adds existence value, making them a more valuable resource than being cut down for land and building materials. So, start licking those poison arrow frogs and box jellyfish, and find the Penicillin of tomorrow!
– Words by Sarah-Jane Walsh
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