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SPRINGTIME IN THE SINAI
Plants have long been regarded as a potential source for new drugs. Botanists from the Suez Canal University in Ismailia, Egypt sought to obtain antibacterial agents from plants growing in the Sinai region. Plant sampling was carried out in the growing season (March-April) of 1993 and 1994 in different districts of the Sinai peninsula. Bulk samples were air dried in the shade and after drying each sample was ground to a fine powder. The authors tried to gather flowering or fruiting specimens for taxonomic purposes. They used two different strategies to gather the plants studied.
In the laboratory, the samples were extracted with organic solvents, and finally dried under nitrogen and stored until bioactivities were assayed against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria as well as yeasts and dermatophytic fungi. The results were reported in the journal of Ethnopharmacology 71: 365-376, 2000. Part of their data has been re-fashioned below:
Amongst the strategies used for selecting plants for pharmacological screening:
- Random approach (Strategy A) which involves the collection of all plants found in the study area
- Phyto chemical targeting entails collection of all members of a plant family known to be rich in bioactive compounds
- Chemo taxonomic approach is a method based on "specific plant parts"
- Ethno-directed sampling approach (Strategy B) based on traditional medicinal uses of a plant. In this instance, the authors selected plants based on the folk medicine of the Bedouins in the Sinai region.
The search for new drugs is a fertile field for discussing the context of discovery. It brings into focus the crucial interactions between ideologies, investments and ideals and sometimes individuals as well. There is always an ongoing debate between using high powered combinatorial chemistry approaches versus using ethnobotanical ones. With this problem, students considered a number of topics, the relative merits of ethnopharmacological approaches with specific reference to antibacterials, the contrast between traditional healing practices and modern medicine and the claims to knowledge, specifically whether indigenous populations should necessarily benefit when their traditional practices are exploited for profit.
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