Even as 4,000 or more species of plants and fungi are scientifically described for the first time every year, the world has not yet fully utilised medicine cabinet of the wild. Moreover, 723 plant species that are used medicinally are threatened with extinction, according to a new study by the Royal Botanic Kew Gardens.
The study “State of the World’s Plants and Fungi” also noted that the present use of natural products for healthcare was contributing to biodiversity loss and as such new approaches have to be developed to conserve the plants and fungi.
The report stated that the global demand for naturally derived medicines was threatening some species. Of the 25,791 species of plants documented for medicinal use, 5,411 have been assessed under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, the report said. Among these, 723 (13 per cent) are categorised as threatened.
Species yielding medicinal compounds
The Royal Botanic Kew Gardens said that the pharmaceutical industry had shifted away from exploring new plant or fungus derived medicines since 1990s. It said that necessary legislation to protect biodiversity along with focus on synthetic drugs and difficulties in isolating sufficient supplies of active chemicals from nature have contributed to this. The report states that the situation was now changing. The scientists are now able to access libraries that contain fractions of natural products. Moreover, the advances in analytical chemistry and computing have made it easier for scientists to identify the complex structures of potentially useful compounds from miniscule samples of plants and fungi.
The report said that there was a vast potential to develop new therapeutics from nature in future. The advances in science and technology are providing effective ways to identify useful chemical compounds, the report added.
Increase of Scope
The report showcases that the medicines from plants and species were extensively used now. It said that of the 185 small molecule drugs approved for cancer between 1981 and 2019, 65 per cent were derived from or inspired by natural products. The report also notes that a compound recently found in apples (Malus species) and other plants was the inspiration for a new class of drugs – the ‘flozins’ – developed to control glucose levels in people with diabetes. It also gives example of new drugs based on the alkaloid compound atropine, which occurs in some members of the potato family (Solanaceae) for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. And more plants are emerging as potential sources of vaccine adjuvants, the report stated.