At least 40% of pharmaceuticals are derived from plants, according to the USDA’s website.  Many of these have been used to treat common ailments for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years.  Examples include willow bark which contains aspirin’s active ingredient and emetine from ipecacuanha which is used to induce vomiting when someone accidentally ingests a poison.  You may more readily recognize it as Ipecac syrup.  These and similar ailments have bothered humans for as long as we’ve existed.  But can plants defeat illnesses associated with modern lifestyles?

The answer is probably yes.  A research team from the University of South Florida Health found preliminary evidence that Basil (Ocimum) may help protect the brain against Alzheimer’s disease.    

Basil Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

Basil plants have an abundant natural compound called fenchol.  You may already be familiar with this compound even if you don’t know its name.  Fenchol contributes to basil’s delicious smell.  Additionally, in preclinical studies conducted in non-human disease models, fenchol affects two critical brain chemistry processes.  As a result, the fenchol reduces neurotoxicity in the brain that is associated with Alzheimer’s.

Once again, possible answers to our most perplexing problems lie within our environment.  This time, it may be an ingredient in your dinner!

To read more about this research:  https://hscweb3.hsc.usf.edu/blog/2021/10/05/natural-compound-in-basil-may-protect-against-alzheimers-disease-pathology/

To read more about plant-derived medicines, check out:  https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethnobotany/medicinal/index.shtml

 

Can you guess how far a dragonfly that weighs 1/100th of an ounce will migrate?  How about 1250 miles, including flying over open seas.

Photo 62479615 / Pantala Flavescens © Aryut Tantisoontornchai | Dreamstime.com

A team lead by researchers from Lund University in Sweden discovered that the Globe Skimmer Dragonflies (Pantala flavescens) migrate from India to East Africa each spring.  Approximately 15% of them survive the lengthy journey.  About 40% manage to make the return trip in the autumn.  

These dragonflies cannot travel this distance solely based on the fuel from their fat stores.   They are simply too small.  Instead, they must gauge the wind currents to push them along the way.  We’ve seen this in birds as well. 

This type of research is often derided as wasteful.  Who cares how far this dragonfly travels?  In response, the team notes that this type of research increases knowledge of how migratory animals, including insects, may inadvertently spread disease.  As wind patterns shift due to climate change, this information will be invaluable to predicting illness breakouts in new locations.

You can read more about this work at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fevo.2021.698128/full

Happy Earth Day!  Let’s explore some of the positive developments in our ever-fascinating world.

Earth from spaceMass extinction is an ongoing threat to many species on our planet.  It is a serious and tragic issue.  Ironically, we are also discovering new species every year.  By one count, in 2006, more than 18,000 species were newly described by scientists.   

A literature search revealed at least 70 new species discovered so far this year, including:

  • Waray Dwarf Burrowing Snake (Levitonius mirus) was discovered in the Philippines.
  • A new species of bat (Myotis) with black and yellow/orange wings was found in the Nimba Mountains of West Africa.
  • A previously misidentified lichen has been reclassified as the new Cora timucua. It was previously found in Florida but may be already extinct.
  • Almost 60 new lichens in the genus Leptogium from East Africa, including Mt. Kasigau in Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, have been identified.
  • A new chameleon (Trioceros wolfgangboehmei) was discovered on the slopes of the Bale Mountains in Ethiopia.

Each year, the International Institute for Species Exploration publishes a list of the most unusual new species.  Maybe one of these will make the list.  My bet is on the colorful new bat.

Sources:

Snake – https://bioone.org/journals/copeia/volume-108/issue-4/CH2020110/A-New-Miniaturized-Genus-and-Species-of-Snake-Cyclocoridae-from/10.1643/CH2020110.full

Bat – http://digitallibrary.amnh.org/bitstream/handle/2246/7249/N3963.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Florida lichen – https://bioone.org/journals/the-bryologist/volume-123/issue-4/0007-2745-123.4.657/Cora-timucua-Hygrophoraceae-a-new-and-potentially-extinct-previously-misidentified/10.1639/0007-2745-123.4.657.short

East Africa lichen – https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2607/9/2/314

Chameleon – https://zse.pensoft.net/article/57297/