A yew tree in the Himalayas that produces the chemotherapy drug, Taxol, is in danger of extinction. An update to the IUCN Red List, has moved the tree, named Taxus contorta, from Vulnerable to Endangered. Overharvesting for medicine and fuelwood have placed the species in serious danger.
Craig Hilton-Taylor with the Red List told the Guardian that it doesn’t have to be this way: “The harvesting of the bark kills the trees, but it is possible to extract Taxol from clippings, so harvesting, if properly controlled, can be less detrimental to the plants. Harvest and trade should be carefully controlled to ensure it is sustainable, but plants should also be grown in cultivation to reduce the impact of harvesting.”
Taxus contorta has lost at least half of its range in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet, and Afghanistan, and is believed to still be in decline.
Taxol is used to treat several kinds of cancer, including breast, ovarian, and lung cancer. It has also been used to fight AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma.
Scientists overwhelmingly agree that the Earth is facing a serious loss in biodiversity and perhaps an outright mass extinction, if threats to the world’s species are not quickly addressed.
CITATION: Thomas, P. 2011. Taxus contorta. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. . Downloaded on 10 November 2011.
Losing nature’s medicine cabinet
(10/04/2010) In all the discussions of saving the world’s biodiversity from extinction, one point is often and surprisingly forgotten: the importance of the world’s species in providing humankind with a multitude of life-saving medicines so far, as well as the certainty that more vital medications are out there if only we save the unheralded animals and plants that contain cures unknown. Already, species have provided humankind everything from quinine to aspirin, from morphine to numerous cancer and HIV-fighting drugs. “As the ethnobotanist Dr. Mark Plotkin commented, the history of medicine can be written in terms of its reliance on and utilization of natural products,” physician Christopher Herndon told mongabay.com. Herndon is co-author of a recent paper in the journal Biotropica, which calls for policy-makers and the public to recognize how biodiversity underpins not only ecosystems, but medicine.
(06/14/2010) A drug derived from a plant native to the Australian rainforest may prove to be a new weapon against cancer, according to the AFP. QBiotics Ltd has released a statement announcing that a drug made from the seeds of a rainforest shrub has successfully treated tumors in over 150 animals, and the company is now preparing to test the drug on humans.
(06/14/2010) If someone saves your life, you want to express your gratitude however you can — a gesture, a “thank you,”, or somehow returning the favor. Yet when you owe your life to a plant found thousands of miles away, the task becomes much harder. As a nurse, I’ve known for years that many life-saving medicines come from plants and animals found around the world. But I never thought that one day I would have to rely on the bark of a rare Asian tree to survive.