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How Biodiversity Impacts Medical Research

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Recent medical research has shown that biodiversity is essential to human health. Studies have found that exposure to a diversity of microbes, animals, and plants can help reduce the incidence of allergies and autoimmune diseases, while also improving mental health. Biodiversity also plays an important role in providing new sources of medicine. As we learn more about the importance of biodiversity to human health, it is becoming clear that preserving our planet's natural habitats is vital to our own well-being. In this blog post, we will explore how biodiversity impacts medical research and what this means for our future health.

Definition of Biodiversity

The term biodiversity refers to the variety of living organisms on our planet—from microorganisms to large mammals. It includes species that live in different ecosystems, from ocean depths and rainforests to deserts and tundra. The diversity of life is essential for human survival, as each organism has its own unique set of traits which contribute to the overall functioning of the ecosystems.

This article aims to explain why biodiversity is important for medical research and how its loss can negatively affect our health.

Importance of Biodiversity in Medical Research

1. New Sources of Medicine: Many of the world’s most effective medicines are derived from plants and animals found in diverse ecosystems. For example, quinine is an antimalarial drug that is extracted from the bark of cinchona trees, which grow in tropical rainforests. In addition to discovering new sources of medicine, biodiversity can also help researchers identify potential new drug targets and treatments.

2. Understanding Disease Pathways: Studying how diseases manifest in different species can provide valuable insight into their pathogenesis, helping scientists understand how they spread, who is most vulnerable to them, and the best ways to treat them. For example, studying the similarities and differences between humans and other animals in how they respond to disease can help develop more effective treatments.

3. Improved Diagnosis: By understanding the relationships between species and their environment, researchers can improve diagnostic accuracy. For example, studying animal populations can help scientists understand how certain diseases spread and which factors make individuals or populations more susceptible to them. This information can help clinicians provide more accurate diagnoses and treatments.

4. Development of Vaccines: Vaccines and disease prevention: Vaccines have been used effectively to reduce the spread of serious infectious diseases, such as polio, measles, and rubella. Biodiversity provides an invaluable source of information for vaccine development by allowing researchers to study different species’ immune systems and how they respond to various pathogens.

The Consequences of Losing Biodiversity

  • Loss of potential treatments: Unfortunately, biodiversity loss is a major global concern. As habitats are destroyed and species disappear, so too do many potential sources of medical treatments which could prove invaluable in treating human diseases.
  • Increased incidence of disease: As biodiversity decreases and animal populations become more homogenous, their susceptibility to certain diseases increases. This can have serious implications for human health, as it increases the risk of emerging infectious diseases.
  • Reduced effectiveness of treatments: As species become more homogenous, certain treatments may become less effective due to reduced genetic variation. For example, some antibiotics are more efficient when targeting a diverse population with different genetic makeups.
  • Ecological imbalance: Loss of biodiversity can also lead to an ecological imbalance, which can have a detrimental effect on our environment and our health. For example, the loss of predators in an ecosystem may result in overpopulation of prey species, leading to increased competition for resources and decreased yields of agricultural produce.
  • Reduced access to food: As certain species become threatened or extinct, it can reduce the availability of certain food sources, which in turn can affect human health and nutrition.
  • Reduced capacity to control infectious diseases : Finally, biodiversity loss can also reduce our capacity to control infectious diseases. This is because a greater variety of species helps reduce the spread of disease by providing diverse habitats and increased competition for resources.

Impact on future generations

Loss of biodiversity not only affects the present, but also on our future generations. This is because it reduces our capacity to research and develop new treatments and may lead to increased susceptibility to disease in future generations.

Conclusion

In conclusion, biodiversity is essential for human health and wellbeing. It provides invaluable sources of information for research and development, which can lead to new treatments and improved diagnostics. However, due to a range of factors such as habitat destruction and climate change, biodiversity around the world is declining at an unprecedented rate. This threatens our capacity to develop new treatments and increases our susceptibility to infectious diseases. Therefore, it is essential that we take actions to conserve and protect biodiversity for the health of future generations.

References:

Leahy, E., 2020. Biodiversity for Human Health – Why We Need It and What Is Being Done to Protect It!. Available at: https://medium.com/the-biomimicry-institute/biodiversity-for-human-health-why-we-need-it-andwhat-is-being-done-to-protect-it-5bd5fae1442b

Peng, E., 2019. The Role of Biodiversity in Human Health. Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/05 /09/720470521/the-role-of-biodiversity-in-human -health

UNESCO, 2019. Biodiversity and Human Health: A Coherent Message for Policy Makers. Available at: https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/biological_diversity_and_human _health_-_a_coherent_message_for_policy_makers.pdf

United Nations Environment Programme, 2020. The Link Between Biodiversity and Human Health. Available at: https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/biodiversity/why-biodiversity -matters/link-between-biodiversity-human-health

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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