Humble Plants: Their Secrets

Art and science often cross paths. I recently uncovered a TED talk given by the president of an African country in which she shows how art, science, culture and health are intertwined.

The talk is given by Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, biodiversity scientist and first female president of Mauritius.

Gurib-Fakim says that we don’t realize how valuable our plant resources are, and yet, we keep destroying them.

Plants have a fundamental role to play in the lives of humans: they feed us and they also give us the oxygen we breathe.

She points out that plants are the source of important, biologically active ingredients that we should be studying very carefully:  human societies over the millennia, have developed important knowledge, cultural traditions, and important plant-based medicinal resources.

While antibiotic resistance is proving to be a big challenge globally, scientists have found local people using a native plant, Terminalia bentzoe, subspecies bentzoe, (a plant only found in Mauritius) to effectively treat infectious diseases.  And scientific work has proven that the leaf extract shows potent activity against a wide range of bacteria that could be pathogenic to humans. 

We will not want this plant to disappear.

And of the other plants that go unstudied? There’s the problem – they are going extinct faster than we can study them.

She gives four examples as a small indication of  how our health and survival are closely linked to the health and the resilience of our ecosystem, and why we should be very careful about preserving biodiversity.

Finally, “Every time a forest is cut down, every time a marsh is filled in, it is a potential lab that goes with it, and which we will never, ever recover.”