From willow bark to mosquitoes, nature has been a source of vital medications for centuries. But species die-off caused by human activity is putting this at risk
What will biodiversity loss mean for drug discovery?
Traditionally used as a painkiller for headaches, snowdrops are now known to slow the onset of dementia. In the 1950s, a natural alkaloid called galantamine was extracted from the bulbs. Today, a synthesised version of this is used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and scientists are investigating further to see if snowdrops might also be effective in the treatment of HIV.
However, over-harvesting has resulted in many snowdrop species becoming threatened. The snowdrop isn’t alone – plants are an abundant source of potential new medicines, often providing us with chemical templates for the design of novel drugs. Yet scientists across the globe say unsustainable use of wild medicinal plants is contributing to biodiversity loss and could limit opportunities to source medicines from nature in the future.