People who scoff at ecologists as “tree huggers” don’t realize that most of our modern live-saving medicines come from indigenous people living in the rainforests of the world?which are rapidly being destroyed. Scientists in Venezuela have started a major project collecting information on the traditional medicines of the Amazon rainforest, before they disappear. They want to create a computer database of the jungle plants that have been used by the people their to cure illness for centuries. They also want to try to save these indigenous cultures so that their wisdom isn?t lost forever.

The database could also be used to discover new cures. “Only about 5% of plants in the Amazon have been studied properly. The potential benefits for the medical community are huge,” says Dr. Ramiro Royero. The information contained on the database will remain the intellectual property of the indigenous communities, so that they will benefit from any new medical discoveries.

Researchers in Venezuela have conducted interviews with 24 indigenous communities and taken photos and videos of people talking about traditional uses of various plants. So far, it contains four million entries which can be searched.

Royero worries that indigenous groups are losing their traditional knowledge as younger generations move to towns and cities to find work. One example is a woman in a remote area of the rainforest who uses a natural herb remedy for menstrual pain. “Just further downriver the people used aspirins for that because it’s easier to buy medicines than go into the forest to collect the plants,? he says.

The datebase can also prevent bio-piracy, since international pharmaceutical companies to go directly to the database instead of sending biologists out into the field to harvest plants. “If a guy from Pfizer comes here and wants to search for a plant that people use in a drink to reduce fever we can show him. “That’s so much easier than going into the jungle to pick his own plants,” Royero says. This way the people of the area will share in the profits of any new medicine that is produced.

Tribal leader Jose Gregorio Diaz Mirabal says, “We don’t know how much has been taken away and is now in the world’s museums and botanical centers. At the moment bio trade is being promoted, marketing our knowledge of the jungle and the knowledge our elders have on how to cure diseases. The debate is, does this belong to the state or to us? Our proposal is that as owners of the land, we have the right to be consulted first.”

Ancient cultures, such as the Mayans, had a lot of wisdom that?s been lost to us and is just now being rediscovered. Read about it in ?Galactic Alignment? by John Major Jenkins,click here.

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