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Table of Content

  • GS-3 Environment, Ecology and Biodiversity:
    • How biodiversity loss jeopardises human health
  • Fact File
  • Telangana Generates Electricity from Vegetable Waste
  • Will there be an El Nino in 2023 and what are the implications?

How biodiversity loss jeopardises human health

GS-3: Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.

Biodiversity, encompassing animals, plants, and fungi, possesses a valuable reservoir of chemicals with potential applications in treating a range of diseases.


However, the decline of biodiversity is leading to species extinction, and with it, the loss of opportunities for medical breakthroughs.


Case Study - Poison Dart Frogs

  • The vibrant colors of poison dart frogs, such as bright reds, yellows, and blues, serve as a clear warning to predators that the amphibians are toxic and consumption could result in convulsions, muscle contractions, and even death. 
  • The same toxic chemicals found on the frogs' skin have the potential to unlock new treatments for infections that have become resistant to currently available antibiotics.
  • The poison dart frogs contain crucial medicinal compounds that serve as effective anaesthetics and antibiotics. 
  • Additionally, many other potentially beneficial chemicals found on the frogs have yet to be discovered or utilized commercially.

Importance of Biodiversity for much needed medicine

  • Plants, animals, fungi and bacteria provide a range of chemicals that have the potential to treat various diseases, including malaria and cancer.
  • Biodiversity supports the natural processes that are necessary for human survival.
  • Natural compounds found on various species including frogs and plants form the basis for many important medicines.
  • Examples include paclitaxel, derived from the bark of the Pacific yew tree, and ziconotide, sourced from cone snails, both used to treat cancer and severe pain respectively.
  • The UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) states that approximately 70% of cancer drugs are derived from nature.
  • However, biodiversity is rapidly declining, reducing the potential for new medicines.
  • Climate change and chytrid fungus have resulted in significant declines in frog populations, leading to the extinction of numerous species.
  • The chytrid fungus causes a disease that has wiped out up to 90 species of amphibians.
  • Despite the possibility of not requiring such a vast array of frog species, the potential for new medicinal discoveries from the remaining biodiversity remains valuable.


Importance of Biodiversity in Drug Discovery in the Future

  • There is much to be investigated in drug discovery, especially in the largely undiscovered ocean.
  • Chemicals produced by sponges are being studied for treating cancers.
  • Biodiversity is more than just individual species; it’s also about the interactions between them.
  • William Gerwick from the University of California San Diego is investigating the symbiotic relationship between the weaver shrimp and cyanobacteria to find molecules that could be used to treat pancreatic cancer in humans.
  • Losing biodiversity means losing access to unknown molecules that could save lives from infectious diseases and cancer.


Threats to Biodiversity and Extinction Rates

  • The 2019 report by IPBES estimates that approximately 1 million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction due to human activities.
  • Although the exact number varies according to different sources, experts agree that species are disappearing at a rate of 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than normal extinction rates.
  • Overharvesting and land conversion are currently the biggest threats to biodiversity, including land clearance for food, livestock grazing, and ocean clearance.
  • Since 1990, almost 420 million hectares of forest have been lost, equivalent to the size of the European Union, which has been converted into farmland or cleared for other uses.
  • Fish stocks are also declining, with around one-third of global stocks estimated to be overfished in 2017.
  • Human-driven climate change is another significant factor affecting biodiversity. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide are causing ocean acidification, leading to coral bleaching and the destruction of habitats.
  • Rising temperatures and unsustainable harvesting practices are also pushing plant species to the brink of extinction.


Impact of Biodiversity Loss on Human Health

  • Reduction in the number of species can lead to the loss of valuable medicinal resources.
  • Extinction of a species may result in the permanent loss of valuable genetic information.
  • The decline of biodiversity can have negative impacts on human nutrition and food security.
  • Biodiversity loss is impacting how communities access traditional medicine.
  • Approximately 4 billion people still rely primarily on natural remedies to heal themselves.
  • When plants used in traditional medicine become difficult to access, it puts the health of these communities at risk.
  • Around 40% of the world’s plant species are threatened with extinction, including 723 species used medicinally.
  • The Pacific yew tree, which is the source of the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel, is now classified as near threatened under the IUCN Red List.
  • Biodiversity loss doesn't just affect drug discovery but also has implications for human health globally.


Planetary health equals human health

  • Humans depend on the natural world to maintain their health and wellbeing, including for drug discovery, air purification, clean water, and food production.
  • Efforts are underway to protect biodiversity and prevent further loss, such as the agreement by 188 governments to protect 30 percent of the planet by 2030.
  • However, it remains uncertain whether these measures will be sufficient and implemented quickly enough.
  • Human health and planetary health are interconnected and interdependent.


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Fact File

Telangana Generates Electricity from Vegetable Waste

  • Hyderabad's Bowenpally Vegetable Market is gaining attention for its unique waste management system that converts vegetable waste into bioelectricity, biofuel, and bio-manure.
  • Every ounce of waste collected from the market generates around 500 units of electricity and 30 kg of biofuel. 
  • This innovative waste-to-energy plant also provides employment opportunities for women, offering them a steady income and opportunities for skill development. 
  • This project has created awareness about sustainable waste management practices and is encouraging other cities to adopt similar initiatives for a greener urban landscape.

Will there be an El Nino in 2023 and what are the implications?

  • From 2019 to 2022, India experienced four consecutive years of favourable monsoons. The southwest monsoon season, which spans from June to September, contributed 933.1 mm to the total rainfall during this 4-year period.
  • Though, it is expected that 2023 will be year of El-Nino, which is associated with weak monsoon season in India.

El-Nino Phenomenon

  • El Nino, which means 'the Christ Child' in Spanish, refers to the phenomenon of increased ocean surface temperatures or above-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.
  • In an El Nino event, the trade winds that normally blow from east (South America) to west (Indonesia) along the equator weaken or even reverse direction to become westerlies.
  • This wind shift causes warm water masses to move towards the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.
  • Consequently, sea surface temperatures (SSTs) rise in this region, resulting in increased rainfall along the western coast of Latin America, the Caribbean, and the US Gulf Coast. 
  • Meanwhile, areas such as Southeast Asia, Australia, and India experience a lack of convective currents due to the warmer ocean waters being displaced.
  • The occurrence of El Nino is unpredictable, with intervals ranging from two to ten years, and each event is unique in its characteristics.

Major impacts of El-Nino

  • El Nino can cause droughts, wildfires, and extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods, and heavy rainfall in some regions, while others experience dry and hot conditions.
  • Drought and extreme temperatures associated with El Nino can cause crop failures, leading to food shortages and price increases.
  • El Nino can lead to the spread of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and cholera, as it creates conditions that favour the breeding of mosquitoes and other disease-carrying insects.
  • It can alter ocean currents and temperature, causing coral bleaching, fish die-offs, and harmful algal blooms that can impact marine ecosystems and fisheries.
  • It can disrupt global trade and cause economic losses due to crop failures, higher food prices, and increased healthcare costs associated with disease outbreaks.
  • It can lead to social unrest, as people struggle with food shortages, job losses, and displacement due to extreme weather events.


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