|Do you believe everything you hear on the radio or read in the newspaper about the ESA? Join us weekly as we dispel common myths about ESA. We will provide you with the correct information. Every week we will present a myth and follow it with the facts.|
MYTH: Saving species is only important to conservationists.
FACT: One of the many tangible benefits of biological diversity has been its contributions to the field of medicine. Each living thing contains a unique reservoir of genetic material that has evolved over eons. This material cannot be retrieved or duplicated if lost. So far, scientists have investigated only a small fraction of the world’s species and have just begun to unravel their chemical secrets to find possible human health benefits to mankind. No matter how small or obscure a species, it could one day be of direct importance to us all. It was “only” a fungus that gave us penicillin, and certain plants have yielded substances used in drugs to treat heart disease, cancer, and a variety of other illnesses. More than a quarter of all prescriptions written annually in the United States contain chemicals discovered in plants and animals. If these organisms had been destroyed before their unique chemistries were known, their secrets would have died with them.
For example, the anti-cancer compound taxol, originally extracted from the bark of the Pacific yew tree found in our Region, is “too fiendishly complex” a chemical structure for researchers to have invented on their own, said a scientist with the U.S. National Cancer Institute. Taxol has become the standard treatment for advanced cases of ovarian cancer, which strikes thousands of women every year. But until the discovery of taxol’s effectiveness, the Pacific yew was considered a weed tree of no value and was routinely destroyed during logging operations.
This is an excerpt from our USFWS brochure Why Save Species?