World could lose antibiotics with disappearing amphibians
Medical science stands to lose a new generation of precious antibiotics and
cancer treatments unless measures are adopted to prevent the loss of amphibians
such as frogs, newts and salamanders, the UN Environment Programme said
The amphibians, certain species of bears, some pines and spruces, sharks and horseshoe crabs are all helping the medical industry manufacture new generations of drugs to treat macular degeneration, thinning-bone diseases, kidney failure, some cancer diseases and gastric ulcers.
But those species are fast disappearing as the world's biological diversity shrinks with the loss of land to development and marine-based life forms.
The study, "Sustaining life: How human health depends on biodiversity," was launched by Oxford University at United Nations headquarters in New York.
It includes the work of more than 100 experts and an appeal for action to prevent the loss of specific species before the medical science can discover their health secrets.
"Habitat loss, destruction and degradation of ecosystems, pollution, over-exploitation and climate change are among the powerful and persistent impacts that are running down the planet's nature-based capital, including the medical treasure trove of the world's biodiversity," said Achim Steiner, the UNEP director.
The authors of the study noted for example the gastric-brooding frogs, which incubate their young in their stomachs and give birth to live baby frogs through their mouths. The babies produce a substance that prevents the mother from throwing up before they are born.
The frog was first identified in the 1980s in Australia's undisturbed rainforests and has led to discoveries into the prevention and treatment of human peptic ulcers, which affect 25 million people in the United States alone.
Some 6,000 known amphibians such as frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and caccilians, which resemble giant earthworms, are threatened by extinction, the study said.
The study said Panamanian poison frogs can help science to strengthen contractions of the heart and Ecuadorian poison frogs could be the source of a new generation of pain killers. An Australian frog that produces glue can help the search for natural adhesives for repairing cartilage and tissue tears in humans.
"Some frogs, such as the gray tree frog and the chorus frog, can survive long periods of freezing without suffering cell damage," UNEP said in a press release. "Understanding how these frogs do this may yield key insights into how we might better preserve scarce organs needed for transplant."
Nine species of bears, including the polar bear, the giant pandas and Asian black bear, are all threatened with extinction, the study said.
Bears have helped in the development of ursodeoxycholic acid, which is found in their gall bladders and can fight the buildup of bile during pregnancy, dissolve gallstones and fight liver diseases.