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Field Study

Discusses the scientific analysis of real-world environments.

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Drugs from the Rainforest

Drugs from the Rainforest


Credit: Killerscene
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daintree_Rainforest_2.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

You probably know that tropical rainforests, like the one pictured here, are good for Earth’s environment. Their trees and other plants absorb carbon dioxide and help control the greenhouse effect and climate change. But tropical rainforests are important for another reason as well.

Why It Matters

  • Tropical rainforest plants are the source of many of the world’s most important medicines. More than 3000 plants are known to make biochemical compounds that help fight cancer. Of these, 70 percent are tropical rainforest plants.
  • Credit: recoverling
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/recoverling/2456440168/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Many species of plants can only be found in rainforests [Figure2]


  • Tropical rainforests are the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world. They contain a large percentage of all the world’s species. However, fewer than 1 percent of all rainforest plants have been tested for biochemical compounds that might cure human diseases.
  • Unfortunately, almost 140 rainforest species go extinct every day. At that rate, it’s likely that many potential cures for diseases now considered incurable will be lost forever.
  • Watch this video to see how researchers are trying to find and develop new drugs from tropical rainforest plants: 


Explore More

Explore more about drugs from the rainforest at the link below. Then answer the questions that follow.

  1. Vincristine is a good example of a drug that comes from a tropical rainforest plant. What is vincristine? What disease does it treat?
  2. In the early 1980s, no U.S. drug companies were doing field studies to search for healing biochemical compounds in the tropical rainforest. How has that changed?
  3. Why do field researchers work with tribal healers in their search for new rainforest drugs?
  4. What are some diseases for which new rainforest drugs were under development when the video above was made?
  5. How are scientists trying to “beat the clock” to find new medicines before rainforest species go extinct and potential drugs are lost forever?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Killerscene; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daintree_Rainforest_2.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: recoverling; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/recoverling/2456440168/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0


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