Day 3: Jesuit's Powder

Key Concepts

Question of the Day

What does the loss of biodiversity mean for the future health of humanity?

Lesson of the Day

“This we know: the earth does not belong to man: man belongs to the earth... All things are connected like the blood which unites one family...Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself”.
- Chief Seattle in a letter to U.S President Franklin Pierce in 1855 -

When the i2P team embarks on its run from the Peruvian Altiplano down to the Amazon basin he, team members will be taking medication to prevent malaria. Malaria is widespread in tropical countries, and can be deadly if left untreated. However, should one fall ill, there are medications available to treat the illness, one of which is Quinine. Quinine was the first effective treatment against malaria, and its medicinal properties were discovered by the Quechua Indians of Peru, who extracted it from the bark of the cinchona tree.

Quinine was introduced to European medicine in the 17th century, and was introduced for the treatment of malaria in England. Several years later it arrived in Spain, where it was used by the Jesuits to manage malaria. Gradually the newly named "Jesuit's powder" became known all over Europe.

This lead to the production of Quinine and South American rainforests benefited from the income generated by harvesting cinchona bark for the manufacture of quinine drugs. In the 20th century plantations of quinine-rich cinchona trees were grown in Indonesia which became the main producer of quinine. Although Quinine is no longer the principle medication of choice for the treatment of Malaria, it is still used today in modern medicine, as are many other drugs isolated from a of natural sources.

The diversity of life on Earth is essential to human health. Throughout history, mankind has relied upon the diversity of plants, animals and ecosystems to support the basic human need for food, shelter, clothing and clean water. Houses have long been built of wood or vegetation appropriate for the local climate. At one point traditional clothing was derived exclusively from local animals or plants. The relationship between human needs and ecosystems still exists today, but it’s not as clear to many in the modern world. Manufacturing, marketing and modern agricultural technology have distanced consumers from a direct relationship with nature and local ecosystems. Many remain blissfully unaware of how important biodiversity still is in providing the necessities of life and maintaining human health.


Plants have long served mankind as a source of medicine to fight illness. Records as far back as 2600 B.C. detail the use of cedar, cypress, opium poppy and licorice in treating common ailments. Today, in developed nations, 25% of prescriptions dispensed from pharmacies contain plant extracts or chemicals derived from plants (see: Biodiversity and Human Health Report). Among the commonly used medications that are derived from plants are Quinine (tree bark), Morphine (opium poppy), Artemisinin (Chinese plant), Taxol (tree bark), Curare (South American vine), and Pilocarpine (Jaborandi plant). Other drugs are derived from animal, bacterial and fungal sources, the most famous example being the discovery of the fungus penicillin in 1928 (see: natural medicine).

Given current global loss of biodiversity, a concern is that undiscovered treatments will be lost with the destruction of plants and animals (see: Are We Killing the Plants That Can Cure?). Many traditional medicines in use by indigenous peoples today (see: Traditional Medicines of Tomorrow), may have wide application as legitimate treatments for human disease, but are threatened by the loss of biodiversity. One such ecosystem that offers great promise as a source of medical therapies, are coral reefs. Coral reefs are currently being explored for their potential to provide cures to AIDS and various cancers (see: Coral Reef Medicine Research), but are undergoing unprecedented worldwide degradation.

The relationship between human health and the biodiversity of the Earth are intimately woven. The immense pressure placed on the Earth by the exponential growth of the human population, and our thirst to consume the natural resources of the planet, place our collective well- being at risk. If we do not preserve the life forms with whom we share this planet, we run the collective risk of eating ourselves out of a home.

Words to Run By

Daily Dispatch

Today the i2P team awoke to clear skies. The sun crept over the hills spilling light into the valley in which they camped for the night. The cloud forest was for the first time free of clouds. Readying for the run the Youth Ambassadors spread on sunscreen to block damaging ultraviolet rays. Although the sun is very intense in equatorial countries such as Peru, the ozone layer is still largely intact overhead. Without the ozone layer life on Earth would not be possible. Before they set out, the Youth Ambassadors were asked to consider what services, such as the ozone layer, the natural world provides to mankind that support human health. After lunch the entire i2P team joined the Ambassadors as they headed off-road; sixteen kilometers of dense jungle path. A privilege it is to feel the embrace of the greatest forest in the world; a tangled maze of plant and water leaving all runners mud splattered and smiling. The forest is home to many natural remedies that have been isolated and mass produced as drugs to treat illness ranging from infection, to cancer and heart disease. Out from under the canopy as the late afternoon sun descended in the west, the weary team was in good spirit. Grateful for the gifts nature had provided on this spectacular day; protection and warmth from the sun, food for energy, clean drinking water, and a cultural experience of a lifetime.

Video of the Day

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Expert Video

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School Activities

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Youth Ambassador Activity

The Youth Ambassadors will locate a Cinchona tree.  They will collect bark from the tree and boil it (see below).  This will release the quinine from the bark.

While they are doing this they will discuss what Ecosystem Services the Cinchona Tree provides and estimate its value to mankind. The value will consider the history of malaria and the developments of treatment for it.

They will consider the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems with respect to the provision of pharmaceuticals.

Making Quinine

The longstanding natural remedy for quinine bark usually calls for a cup of boiling water to be poured over approximately 1-2 g of ground or chopped natural bark and allowed to steep for ten minutes. A cupful of this infusion is drunk half an hour before meals to stimulate the appetite, or after meals to treat digestive disorders. The use of pure quinine at large dosages can be toxic. The reported therapeutic oral dose for quinine alkaloids in adults is between 167-333 mg three times per day. Reportedly, a single dose of 2-8 grams of pure quinine alkaloids taken orally may be fatal to an adult. Natural bark teas prepared in the traditional manner, however, have a long history of use without toxic effects. A cup of traditional quinine bark tea would provide approximately 100 mg of total alkaloids, including quinine (based upon an average of 5% total alkaloid content in the raw bark).