The search for medicinal breakthroughs in rainforest plants must be one of the most valuable of scientific endeavours. It isn’t a wild leap of imagination to suppose that there may be an unknown plant growing in a rainforest somewhere that could do for lung cancer or malignant melanoma what the Rosy Periwinkle has done for Hodgekin’s Disease and Leukemia. Some humble bromeliad may hold the cure for AIDS perhaps, in its fleshy leaves? Some nondescript vine, one of the many that hangs from the overarching branches of cloud forest giants in a particular secluded Andean valley may accelerate the healing of wounds, or some slight fungus or endemic fern in the underlying ‘herb layer’ may yield the ultimate anti-biotic? Who knows?

Not us (yet), and that’s the whole point of Canopy To Cures, a British university based research group that hopes to extend the frontiers of phytopharmacology and bring their enthusiasm for discovery to classrooms and science exhibitions in the UK and possibly to TVs and internet browsers across the world too!

Deepesh involved in educational outreach at a Science Fair

Deepesh involved in educational outreach at a Science Fair

This is where Andy Luck of Wild Open Eye intends to help the group. Andy is going to give the students some fundamental training in documentary film-making (one of Andy’s fortes) and give the group a professional quality camera lens , Panasonic’s formidable Lumix g vario 45-200mm mega OIS lens to mount on the Panasonic DMC-GH2 purchased via a grant awarded by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

This stabilised lens is the telephoto equivalent of a 90 to 400mm lens in 35mm camera terms and will give Canopy To Cures much better options to capture distant subjects such as wildlife, bringing them nicely into focus! Anyone familiar with rainforest photography will know that light levels can be very low under the forest canopy, the Mega OIS will be a great boon there, enabling blur-free hand-held photography in low light conditions that would confound lesser lenses. It’s compact size is also expected to be a blessing to the expedition. High quality HD video will help bring the subject to life in the group’s environmental education outreach activities at schools and science fairs. It will be crucial in the production of a short film trailer that the group intends to show to broadcasting executives in the hope of following up this year’s expedition with a televised one!

Upon their return, the Canopy To Cures footage will benefit from professional grade editing and post production finishing with the help of London’s Ace Post Production Company. Offering full post production services for regular or HD films, either offline or online with a shared storage network that allows multiple editors to simultaneously share the same footage. The Ace Post Production team are specialists in providing professional titling, dubbing and editing. They even have their own in-house graphics specialist and can produce and dispatch bespoke DVDs. These capabilities are likely to produce a good quality trailer to facilitate Canopy To Cures educational outreach considerably.

Deepesh and Raghd stimulating interest in STEM subjects through educational outreach

Deepesh and Raghd stimulating interest in STEM subjects through educational outreach

In the course of their undergraduate research projects at Durham and Cambridge Universities respectively, Deepesh Patel and Raghd Rostom will be looking into various aspects of medicinal derivation, development and deforestation. The topics are closely interrelated, Deepesh tells us that 2% of high diversity forest is lost to the world yearly, and with it, the unique repertoire of resident species along with their particular biochemistry.

In a world fast losing its forest cover there is no time to lose, Manu Biosphere reserve in the west Andean region of Peru is an ideal location for Canopy To Cures field research. It’s a megadiversity hotspot with varying degrees of protection – some areas completely protected, others threatened by settlement, mining and drilling. It’s a place where tapirs and Blue Macaws self-medicate at clay licks to detoxify defensive chemical compounds in their plant diets that have evolved over millions of years of sustained bio-chemical warfare. This biochemical struggle for survival and advantage, plant-on-insect, plant-on-fungus and plant-on-plant and every other combination that you can think of, make the world’s rainforests “Mother Nature’s” laboratory par excellence – a vast continuously evolving pharmacological resource!

The students will be working with Dr. Percy Nunez, one of Peru’s most sought after ethnobotanists on the Canopy to Cures expedition. Dr.Nunez is internationally recognised for his plant collections and catalogues. Their research will be assisted by The CREES Foundation, a not-for-profit charitable organisation working to bring economic, social and environmental harmony to the Manu region of Peru.
With 15,000 known species of flowering plants in Manu and more yet to be discovered, Canopy To Cures believe that scientific research into the medicinal potential of plants within the reserve is essential for the benefit of mankind. This is the message that the group is conveying through their environmental education outreach activities – in schools, at universities and at science festivals across the country: important medicines are found in Rainforests and the preservation of these forests is essential for the development of medicinal science. Deepesh also teaches that science is fun and deeply satisfying. He is a STEM Ambassador, as such he actively encourages students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics based educational paths. There is certainly no question that science is leading Deepesh into exciting new worlds of discovery!

For more information from the Eye on Canopy To Cures profile  please click here.