Medicinal tree used in chemotherapy drug faces extinction |
species of Himalayan yew tree that is used to produce Taxol, a chemotherapy drug to treat cancer, is being pushed to the brink of extinction by over-harvesting for medicinal use and collection for fuel, scientists warned on Thursday.
The medicinal tree, Taxus contorta, found in Afghanistan, India and Nepal, has seen its conservation status change from "vulnerable" to "endangered" on the IUCN's annual "red list" of threatened species.
Taxol was discovered by a US National Cancer Institute programme in the late 1960s, isolated in the bark of the Pacific yew tree, Taxus brevifolia. All 11 species of yew have since been found to contain Taxol. "The harvesting of the bark kills the trees, but it is possible to extract Taxol from clippings, so harvesting, if properly controlled, can be less detrimental to the plants," said Craig Hilton-Taylor, IUCN red list unit manager.
"Harvest and trade should be carefully controlled to ensure it is sustainable, but plants should also be grown in cultivation to reduce the impact of harvesting on wild populations," he added.
The red list is currently the most detailed and authoritative survey of the planet's species, drawn from the work of thousands of scientists around the globe. For the first time, more than 61,900 species have been reviewed. The latest list categorises 801 species as extinct, 64 as extinct in the wild, and 9,568 as critically endangered or endangered. A further 10,002 species are vulnerable, with the main threats being overuse, pollution, habitat loss and degradation.
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