World's forests potential medical treasure trove: scientist
TORONTO (AFP) May 09, 2004
The world's forests, under siege from urban sprawl and ruthless commercial logging, are a treasure trove stacked with biological and genetic resources which could revolutionise medicine.

That's the message self-described "renegade scientist" and Canadian author and botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger, will deliver this week at a forestry conference as she stresses the world is wasting a vital resource.

"It's time to look at forests with intelligent eyes," she told AFP.

Resources like the Amazon rainforest and Canada's vast aboriginal and boreal forests are packed with plants, bacteria, mosses, and lichens which represent "extraordinary treasures," Beresford-Kroeger said.

Better use of trees and their genetic properties could drastically reduce health costs, she argues, but scientists have been slow to recognise the potential of the northern forests.

For example, Beresford-Kroeger will argue that birch sap, once used as chewing gum, contains a bacterial agent that could fight tooth decay, and can even be used to combat ear infections in children.

Extract of a certain type of hawthorn tree is already being used by heart surgeons to unblock arteries and helps prevent heart attacks, she said.

But activists like Beresford-Kroeger claim vast multinational drug firms are trying to suppress alternative approaches, and the idea of using natural methods to improve health care, fearing for their bottom lines.

Even so, activists predict a coming boom in what they term Bioeconomy, which includes non-traditional forest products.

The National Conference on Aboriginal Forestry, opening Tuesday, in Thunder Bay, Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior, will gather Canada's aboriginal and native groups, forestry professionals and scientists to study how to exploit and sustain the country's forests.