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Which plants used in ethnomedicine are characterized? Phylogenetic patterns in traditional use related to research effort

Souza, E. N. F., Williamson, E. M. and Hawkins, J. A. (2018) Which plants used in ethnomedicine are characterized? Phylogenetic patterns in traditional use related to research effort. Frontiers in Plant Science, 9. 834. ISSN 1664-462X

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To link to this item DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2018.00834


Plants are important resources in healthcare and for producing pharmaceutical drugs. Pharmacological and phytochemical characterization contributes to both the safe use of herbal medicines and the identification of leads for drug development. However, there is no recent assessment of the proportion of plants used in ethnomedicine that are characterized in this way. Further, although it is increasingly apparent that plants used in ethnomedicine belong to preferred phylogenetic lineages, it is not known how this relates to the focusing of research effort. Here we identify species and lineages rich in ethnomedicinal use and develop methods to describe how well they are known pharmacologically and/or phytochemically. We find 50% of plant species of the family Leguminosae used in ethnomedicine in Brazil, a geographical area where plants are an important part of healthcare, have been the focus of either phytochemical screening or testing for biological activity. Plant species which have more use reports are studied significantly more often (p<0.05). Considering the taxonomic distribution of use, 70% of genera that include species with ethnomedicinal use have been studied, compared to 19% of genera with no reported use. Using a novel phylogenetic framework, we show that lineages with significantly greater numbers of ethnomedicinal species are phylogenetically over-dispersed within the family, highlighting the diversity of species used. “Hotnode clades” contain 16% of species but 46% of ethnomedicinally-used species. The ethnomedicinal species in hotnode clades have more use reports per species (p<0.05), suggesting they are more frequently used. They are also more likely to be characterized pharmacologically and/or phytochemically. Research focus has followed traditional use by these measures, at least for these Brazilian plants, yet ethnomedicinal species yielding candidate drugs, raising public health concerns and more intensively studied lie outside of the hotnode clades.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Biological Sciences > Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
ID Code:77495
Publisher:Frontiers Media


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