1998 The Value of Plants, Animals, and Microbes to Human Health
All life on Earth, from vast ecosystems to microscopic organisms, is connected and interdependent. Yet that basic fact has been largely overlooked by our own species. We have modified ecosystems to suit our own needs, altering their functions in the process. This and the resultant loss of biodiversity now threatens us with a health crisis of global proportions. Plants, animals, and microbes offer the key to a greater understanding of human health and disease, both as medical models and as sources of new medicines for presently untreatable conditions. As much as 80 percent of the world's human population relies on traditional medicines made from natural ingredients, and a significant portion of pharmaceutical products are derived from plants and other natural resources. Biomedical research has also led to the development of treatments for certain cancers, heart disease and other debilitating and deadly illnesses. Yet only a fraction of the world's biological health has been studied for this purpose.
In order to utilize these resources, we must first protect them. Alarmingly, species are disappearing faster than they can be identified. The cause is our non-sustainable consumption of resources, which leads to habitat destruction and transformation, overexploitation, pollution, the introduction of alien species and the alteration of global climate. Our destructive reach is global, affecting terrestrial, marine, and aquatic ecosystems.
The Value of Plants, Animals, and Microbes to Human Health was sponsored by the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History; the Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School; the United Nations Environment Programme; and the Fogarty International Center, National Institute of Health.