Preservation of endangered medicinal plants of GB

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Medicinal plants have the old history of human use. The oldest written evidence of medicinal plants usage for preparation of drugs has been found on a Sumerian clay slab from Nagpur, approximately 5000 years old. The use of herbs to treat disease is almost universal among non-developed societies and is often more affordable than purchasing modern pharmaceutical. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 80 percent of the population of some Asian and African countries presently uses herbal medicine for some aspect of primary health care.

These plants mostly grow on high elevations such as mountainous regions because these places are more conserved than low lands where human practices disturb biodiversity. Therefore, wild medicinal plants are mostly found in such places. In Pakistan a rich floral diversity, represented by approximately 1572 genera and around 600 wild plant species, which are mostly common in the Hindukush, Himalaya and Karakorum Ranges of Gilgit-Baltistan and other parts of Pakistan. The history of the use of wild type plants as medicines is very old in this region, as the local healers are well known about their usages for the treatment of illness. Therefore, it is important to explore this indigenous knowledge and its preservation as a natural resource. But unfortunately this gift of nature is extensively utilizing without growing. The serious causes of extinction of these plants are grazing, deforestation, uprooting natural disasters. Such grazing is a serious threat for some species including Astragalus gilgitenisis, Astragalus clarkeanus etc.

Other factors that have an impact on plant conservation, use and marketing are the changes in values and beliefs. Plants used to be grown in most villages for its medicinal value is now very difficult to find. Furthermore, the increasing trends of using antibiotic readymade medicines have changed the traditional beliefs and trends of using herbal medicines and this leads the plants species towards extinction.

In 2006, a survey was conducted in which 68 taxa were known to be endemic in the study area, out 68, 49 taxa are endemic to Gilgit and Baltistan but are also found in other parts of Pakistan, while 19 taxa wereconfined only to area to project area.

These taxa were classified according to IUCN Red list Categories and Criteria (2001). Astragalus gilgitensis, A. clarkeanus,

Asperula oppositifolia subsp. baltistanica, Berberis pseudoumbellata subsp. gilgitica,

Haplophyllum gilesii and Tanacetum baltistanicum are found critically endangered

Aconitum violaceum var. weileri and Rhodiola saxifragoides are vulnerable.

Therefore, steps should be taken to preserve these precious natural resources from extinction.There are many methods to preserve these endangered species which are discussed as follows.

1) By creating awareness

The good way to preserve these natural resources is to avoid the disturbance of natural habitat of these plants. This can only be achieved by awareness that it must not be destroyed by educating the people about the economic value of the medicinal plants as the populations already often possess in-depth knowledge about the uses of wild medicinal plants and need to utilize these resources wisely but they are pressured by growing population and poverty and this induces them to overharvest and destroy natural habitats, and mostly this way does not work because the local people also use these plants as a feed to their domestic animals as they are easily available without any cost.

When this way does not work and preservation in nature is not possible then alternative possible ways can be used such as germplasm preservation. Germplasm preservation of these plants can be a good way to preserve these natural resources from extinction.

The whole set of genetic material of a species of plant is known as germplasm of the organism. There are two distinct methods of plant germplasm conservation, in-situ and ex-situ.

2) In-situ conservation.

It is the process of the on-site conservation of endangered plant species in its natural habitat, either by protecting or cleaning up the habitat itself, or by defending the species from predators. This can be achieved by establishing biosphere reserves such as national parks, gene sanctuaries. In-situ conservation maintains recovering populations in the environment where they have developed their distinctive properties and this strategy helps ensure the ongoing processes of evolution and adaptation within their environment.

3) Ex-situ conservation.

This means off-site conservation. It is the process of protecting an endangered species outside its natural habitat by removing part of the plant population from the threatened habitat and planting it in new location, which may be wild area or within the care of humans. Ex-situ conservation can be carried out by several methods.

Seed gene bank, in vitro storage, DNA storage, pollen storage, field, gene banks and botanical gardens.

But due to lack of research laboratories and funding, ex-situ methods are impossible to use in the region of Gilgit-Baltistan because of the lack of attention of the government towards the importance of these naturalresources. The only way to use ex-situ method is that the seeds or other materials of the endangered plant population should be collected and brought to other provinces having the facilities of research laboratories where these plants materials can be stored for long time and can be used for propagation and multiplication.

Therefore, it is concluded that medicinal plants have pharmaceutical importance and it is essential to explore the native knowledge of these medicinal plants. In this regard government should provide financial aid to run projects and establish research laboratories in Gilgit-Baltistan where these plants can be studied and preserved.

The authors are associated with Centre for Agricultural Biochemistry and Biotechnology, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Punjab, Pakistan. They can be reached at <> and <>


Published in: Volume 07 Issue 15

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