Students Research Medicinal Plants in Amazon Rainforest
An Alma College professor recently led a team of students into the Amazon Rainforest to collect and research medicinal plants.
Brian Doyle, assistant professor of biotechnology, and his Spring Term class spent 10 days in the Ecuadorian forest working with traditional Kichwa healers. He says the experience might mark the first time an American college has collaborated with this Kichwa community.
“One of the best places to investigate medicinal plants is the Amazon,” he says. “About 80 percent of people in developing countries like Ecuador rely on plants as their source of medicinal treatment. My guess is there are roughly about 300 medicinal plants used by this community.”
Brian Doyle, far left, with students in his research lab.
While hiking daily, Doyle’s class collected and prepared plant specimens by taking digital photographs of them and recording their names in English, Spanish and Kichwa, along with information about their uses and preparation. Creating a comprehensive book about the community’s medicinal plants is his ultimate goal, he says.
“The Kichwa are a shy people, but they understood the importance of our research,” he says. “As oil companies start to move in, their traditions, knowledge and language are being lost very rapidly. This is a way to preserve their culture, but our research also may lead to the development of medicines that could benefit others.”
Because Doyle was so impressed with the amount of work his students did, he hopes to continue offering the course and working on the research project little by little. To accomplish this, he says he also encourages students to work on it independently.
“This is just the beginning,” he says. “I hope the experience was an eye-opening and unforgettable adventure for the students who had never been to a place like Ecuador before. Some of them plan to go into medicine, so seeing how people in this environment deal with medical challenges gives them an interesting perspective.”
Gabe Svobodny, in Ecuador
Ohio senior Gabe Svobodny, who went on the trip, headed back to Ecuador this summer to identify the plant specimens collected during Spring Term, which have been deposited in the Ecuadorian Natural Sciences Museum. He says he has learned a lot so far from the experience.
“I’ve enjoyed learning from people whose culture is unimaginably different from my own,” he says. “Perhaps even more than I had previously thought, I would like to continue this kind of work in the future. My commitment will be tested once more as I spend about five times as long in the same village this fall.”
Posted: Tue, July 31st, 2012 at 1:27PM