Phylogenies reveal predictive power of traditional medicine in bioprospecting
C. Haris Saslis-Lagoudakis et al, PNAS 10 September 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1202242109

Researchers reconstruct a genus-level molecular phylogenetic tree representing the 20,000 species found in the floras of three biodiversity hotspots: Nepal, New Zealand and the Cape of South Africa. Borrowing phylogenetic methods from community ecology, they reveal significant clustering of the 1,500 traditionally-used species, and provide a direct measure of the relatedness of the three medicinal floras. They demonstrate that related plants from these regions are used to treat medical conditions in the same therapeutic areas. The authors suggest that this finding strongly indicates independent discovery of plant efficacy, an interpretation corroborated by the presence of a significantly greater proportion of known bioactive species in these plant groups that in random samples. They conclude that phylogenetic cross-cultural comparisons can focus screening efforts on a subset of traditionally-used plants that are richer in bioactive compounds, and could revitalize the use of traditional knowledge in bioprospecting. Read the abstract … Read a post on the research by Ed Yong in Discover Magazine …