The disappearance of some plants could leave humanity without medicines

English Section / 12 octombrie 2023

The disappearance of some plants could leave humanity without medicines

Versiunea în limba română

Problems never come alone. The poisoning of nature immediately turns against people who do it for economic reasons or out of ignorance.

Humanity could lose "up to half of all future medicines" due to the very large number of plant species facing extinction, scientists have warned in a report. Nearly half of flowering plants are threatened, numbering over 100,000, while around 77% of those not yet described by scientists are also at risk. In some cases, these plants vanish between their discovery and their formal classification, a process that takes, on average, about 16 years. The primary cause of these disappearances is habitat loss through deforestation or the construction of dams that flood upstream river areas. Climate change is "definitely on the horizon," said conservation analyst Matilda Brown, adding that this threat is much harder to assess. Brown is among the researchers from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, located in the Richmond district of London, who published these findings in a new report titled "The State of the World's Plants and Fungi." They are calling for all newly described species to be considered threatened unless proven otherwise. "We're talking about over 100,000 species that are threatened - more than the total number of mammal, bird, reptile, fish, all our vertebrate species put together," Brown explained. "And when we consider that nine out of 10 of our medicines come from plants, what we could be facing is the loss of up to half of all our future medicines," she said. It's not a large number if you're a plant. It's a large number in terms of potential impact on humanity," emphasized the researcher. Many recently described species are more vulnerable to extinction because they are specific to a single region or are located in areas heavily affected by human activity. There are numerous "blind spots" in the Amazon, India, China, tropical regions of Southeast Asia, and parts of the Middle East where conflicts, difficult terrain, and lack of funding have presented challenges to botanical exploration. Over 200 scientists from 102 institutions in 30 countries contributed to the report published by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, which includes "The World Checklist of Vascular Plants" (WCVP), the most comprehensive database of known plant species, containing over 350,000 names. Rafeal Govaerts, who spent 35 years compiling this list, said he was inspired by Charles Darwin's dream of recording all plant species on Earth. This list must be continuously updated, as around 2,500 new species are officially described every year. However, the list excludes fungi species, some of the least understood components of the natural world. Mycologists - those who study fungi - estimate that there are around 2.5 million species, of which 155,000 have been cataloged. "We know more about the surface of the planet Mars than we do about the fungi on this planet," said Alexandre Antonelli, a professor and scientific director at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. At the current pace of scientific description, it would take 750-1,000 years to catalog all mushroom species, researchers said, believing that DNA sequencing and molecular data analysis could help expedite this process. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, scientists have described 10,200 new species of fungi and over 8,600 plant species, with isolation periods providing them more time to focus on newly discovered but uncataloged specimens.