The chimpanzees’ materia medica

Linda Nordling writes: Fancy eating a kroma fruit? How about a prickly badi? Or zoobo leaves?

If you are feeling unwell, perhaps you should. These West African plants are part of a ‘jungle pharmacy’ sought out by wild chimpanzees to treat ailments ranging from worm infestations to bacterial infections. And because humans share 98% of their DNA with chimps, and are susceptible to some of the same diseases, they might work on people too.

At least that is the theory behind a research project in Côte d’Ivoire that is screening such plants for possible human treatments. So far it has identified compounds that able to kill bacterial and yeast infections in a petri dish, and even some that seem to inhibit cancer development. Eventually, such discoveries could lead to new antibiotics, antifungals or cancer treatments.

But drug discovery is a long road, and these compounds have only passed the first hurdle says Constant Ahoua, the Ivorian botanist in charge of the project. Ahoua, a postdoctoral researcher at the Afrique One-ASPIRE programme based in Abidjan, has been studying chimp diets for a decade. For his PhD he screened 27 plant species eaten by wild chimps, specifically targeting those not already known to be used in traditional human medicine. Of the extracts he made from the plants, 18% were active against bacteria and 5% against yeasts.

Next up, Ahoua will publish a paper on the anti-cancer compounds he discovered in his research. “We found seven compounds that inhibit cancer-triggering enzymes, and two of them are completely new,” he says. [Continue reading…]

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