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Biodiversity

Loss of World's Species Means Loss of Potential Breakthrough Medicines, Warn Researchers

Wednesday, October 08, 2008 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: biodiversity, health news, Natural News


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(NaturalNews) Potential medical treatments for cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis and other health problems may disappear forever if urgent action is not taken to conserve threatened wildlife, according to a new book based on the work of more than 100 health and wildlife experts.

Sustaining Life, whose primary authors come from the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical school, focuses on seven groups of threatened life forms that are believed to provide potential medical benefits: amphibians, bears, cone snails, sharks, non-human primates, horseshoe crabs and gymnosperms.

One amphibian that will never be able to supply a medical treatment is the southern gastric brooding frog, Rheobactrachus. Two species of Rheobactrachus were discovered in Australia's rainforests in the 1980s, and scientists quickly noticed that the female frogs were unusual in their habit of carrying their young in their stomachs. While researching why the young were not digested, scientists uncovered evidence that the baby frogs were producing chemicals that inhibited the mother's production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes. This kept her body from emptying her young into the intestines.

Although scientists hoped that further research might yield new ulcer treatments for humans, the frogs went extinct before this could occur.

"The valuable medical secrets they held are now gone forever," co-authors Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein said.

The book notes that the bodies of frogs alone produce chemicals with potential uses as painkillers, heart and blood-pressure medicines, and antibiotics. Researchers are also investigating painkillers from cone snails and antibiotics from shark livers. A protein produced by horseshoe crabs is believed to have potential benefits for the treatment of prostate and liver cancer. Compounds produced by gingkos are believed to help treat or prevent Alzheimer's disease. Scientists believe that bears' ability to conserve bone mass while hibernating may provide clues to reversing osteoporosis.

Yet all these families are currently considered at great risk of disappearing.

More than 16,000 species are currently threatened with extinction.

Sources for this story include: ap.google.com, www.guardian.co.uk.

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