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Timothy M. Peace Mrs. Lillie Faison, Instructor English 111±D1 Feb. 10, 2009 Discovering Plant Medicines Plants all across the globe play a major role in western medicine. Nearly a quarter of the United States¶ prescription drugs that are sold today are based on chemicals from only forty plant species. Some examples are codeine and morphine which is derived from poppies, and taxol a compound found in the bark of the pacific yew that is used to treat some cases of advanced ovarian and breast canc
  Timothy M. PeaceMrs. Lillie Faison, Instructor English 111±D1Feb. 10, 2009Discovering Plant MedicinesPlants all across the globe play a major role in western medicine. Nearly a quarter of the United States¶ prescription drugs that are sold today are based on chemicals from only forty plant species. Someexamples are codeine and morphine which is derived from poppies, and taxol a compound found in the bark of the pacific yew that is used to treat some cases of advanced ovarian and breast cancer. However,less than one percent of the world¶s flowering plants have been tested for their effectiveness againstdisease (Hallowell and Dorfman 16). Ethnobotanist¶s (scientists who study relationships between plantsand human cultures) (Moore), take on the painstaking task of searching for and discovering medicinal plants, which includes preparing for expeditions, performing intensive field research while on their expeditions, and then sending the potentially useful plants they collect to laboratories for pharmacologicaltesting.To discover the practical potential of native plants, an ethnobotanist must be knowledgeable, not only inthe study of plants themselves, but must understand and be sensitive to the dynamics of how cultureswork. The first step is collecting detailed knowledge about the local and indigenous people. Researchers prepare a regional study on the epidemiology, traditional medicine, culture and ecology of the people andtheir environment. In order to prioritize plant collections, a number of international databases are searchedto obtain all of the relevant ethnomedical, biological, and chemical information on the plants known to beused in that region. Data is also gathered from remote area hospitals and treatment programs that work with local and native peoples. This information is synthesized and integrated into the field research program (King, and Veilleux). Before leaving for field work ethnobotanists spend many months preparing. They painstakingly gather the tools and supplies necessary for long-term survival and study inwhat are often remote villages located deep in dense tropical forests.In the never ending search for better medicines, ethnobotanist often travel to different parts of the world,where they may spend months living in remote areas, under primitive conditions, performing fieldresearch. South America, for example, has an extraordinary diversity of plant species and has beenregarded as a treasure grove of medicinal plants. The jungles and rain forests of South America contain anincredibly diverse number of plant species, many still unexplored, many unique and potentially useful asmedicinal sources (Moore). Here they will spend hundreds or thousands of hours in patient observationand experimentation. Ethnobotanists slowly, meticulously, learn about plants the indigenous people use.They spend long hours cataloging their knowledge about the useful plants and poisonous ones, selectingand collecting plants for cultivation and protection. Above all, ethnobotanists spend long hourscompleting the repetitious but critical work of pressing and drying plants, often despite monsoon rainsand oppressive heat. The plant collection process involves standard methodology, which includes the preparation of multiple plant voucher specimens, which are deposited in the host country as well as invarious United States herbaria (King, and Veilleux).In the field ethnobotanists work as a team with an ethnomedicine-trained physician to prepare brief case  descriptions of diseases. They then present these descriptions of individual diseases to shamans and thelocal healers, often including photographs of diseases with readily visible clinical manifestations. Theinterviewing process is conducted very carefully. The cases are presented without using medicalterminology. Modern medical terminology is not necessarily understood by the local healers. The focus ison common signs and symptoms that are easily recognized. A translator for the local language is usuallynecessary to conduct this phase. Once a healer has recognized and described the same or similar diseasestate, the botanical treatment for that condition is recorded in detail by the ethnobotanist. If severalindependent and reliable shamans describe a similar treatment for a disease, the plant is then collected for further studies (Moore).After the field work has been completed, the information collected in the field study is sent to researchfacilities. Once the plants have arrived at the research site, processing the plants for medicinal purposes begins. The plants are tagged with the information from the field study. Then the plants are processed andtested in studies completed by ethnopharmacologists, using state of the art laboratory equipment (whichmay include high pressure liquid chromatography studies and in vivo transgenic animal studies). Themost promising initial plant compounds are fractionated to obtain pure samples in milligram amounts.These natural pure compounds are compared to the best available therapeutics by in vitro testing. If the bioassay is successful, the compound is structurally characterized and is subject to a confirmatory biological test. Promising compounds are scaled up to provide gram quantities for animal testing todetermine safety and efficacy. These natural pure compounds are compared to the best availabletherapeutics by in vitro testing. After this testing is completed, the samples are compared with the bestavailable marketed therapeutics. The scale up process occurs again and hundreds of grams of selectedcompounds are provided for further studies which will eventually lead to an effective, marketable drugsuitable for human consumption. This new product is the reward for all the time and effort of manyindividuals (King, and Veilleux)For thousands of years plants were the primary source of medicine. In the U.S. at least one in four  prescription drugs is still derived from plants (Sears 70-75). Ethnobotanist¶s take on the painstaking task of searching for and discovering these medicinal plants, which includes preparing for expeditions, performing intensive field research while on their expeditions, and then sending the potentially useful plants they collect to laboratories for pharmacological testing. Prior to any expeditions, an ethnobotanistmay embark to search for potentially useful plants. The ethnobotanist must gather detailed information onthe indigenous people and their culture, in order to create a field research program. They must also gather all the tools and supplies necessary for such expeditions. In the field, often in remote locations all aroundthe world, the ethnobotanist will spend hours upon hours, observing, experimenting, and documenting the plant species used by indigenous people. After the long rigorous task of field studying is done, theinformation collected in the field study is then sent to laboratories for pharmaceutical testing, which willhopefully lead to effective drugs, suitable for human consumption. For this reason, it is a crucial matter that we put forth more effort into saving the remaining rain forest so that researchers from around theglobe may continue to discover new plant medicines.   Works CitedBeachy, Debra. Nature's Pharmacy. Houston Chronical October 1992: 1E+. 4 Feb.2009<http://sks.sirs.com/cgi-bin/hst-clean-copy?id+SNC1350h-0-4708&type+ART&artno+000>Christopher Hallowell and Andrea Dorfman. The Plant Hunter. Time Fall 1997, Vol. 150 Issue 19: 16.4 Feb. 2009<http://wf2dnvr16.webfeat.org/QBiVL1167/url+http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/delivery?vid>King, Steven R. and Connie Veilleux. An Introduction to Ethnobotany. Access Excellence. 1996Access Excellence. 4 Feb. 2009 <http://www.accessexcellence.org/RC/Ethnobotany/page2.php>Moore, Shellay. What Do Ethnobotanist Do? .eHow. 2009 eHow. 4 Feb. 2009<http://www.ehow.com/about_4608905_what-do-ethnobotanists-do.html>.Sears, Cathy. Jungle Potions. American Health Magazine October 1992: 70-75. 4 Feb 2009<http://sks.sirs.com/cgi-bin/hst-clean-copy?id+SNC1350h-0-4708&type+ART&artno+000> 
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