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  • You know, it's a big privilege for me

  • to be working in one of the biodiversity hotspots in the world:

  • the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean.

  • These islandsMauritius, Rodrigues, andunion

  • along with the island of Madagascar,

  • they are blessed with unique plants

  • found nowhere else in the world.

  • And today I will tell you about five of them

  • and their particular features

  • and why these plants are so unique.

  • Take a look at this plant.

  • I call it benjoin in the local vernacular,

  • and the botanical name is Terminalia bentzoe,

  • subspecies bentzoe.

  • This subspecies is endemic to Mauritius,

  • and its particular feature

  • is its heterophylly.

  • What do I mean by heterophylly?

  • It's that the same plant

  • has got leaves that are different shapes and sizes.

  • Now, these plants have evolved

  • very far away from the mainland,

  • and within specific ecosystems.

  • Often, these particular features

  • have evolved as a response to the threat

  • presented by the local fauna,

  • in this case, grazing tortoises.

  • Tortoises are known to have poor eyesight,

  • and as such, they tend to avoid the plants

  • they don't recognize.

  • So this evolutionary foil safeguards the plant

  • against these rather cute animals,

  • and protects it and of course ensures its survival.

  • Now the question you're probably asking yourself is,

  • why is she telling us all these stories?

  • The reason for that is that we tend to overlook

  • the diversity and the variety of the natural world.

  • These particular habitats are unique

  • and they are host to a whole lot of plants.

  • We don't realize how valuable

  • and how precious these resources are,

  • and yet, through our insouciance,

  • we keep on destroying them.

  • We're all familiar

  • with the macro impact of urbanization,

  • climate change, resource exploitation,

  • but when that one last plant

  • or animal for that matter

  • when that very last specimen

  • has disappeared from the face of this Earth,

  • we would have lost

  • an entire subset of the Earth's biology,

  • and with it, important plants with medicinal potential

  • or which could have ingredients

  • that would speak to the cosmetic,

  • nutrition, pharma,

  • and even the ethno-veterinary sectors,

  • be gone forever.

  • And here we have a very prime example

  • of the iconic dodo, which comes from Mauritius,

  • and, of course, we know is now a symbol of extinction.

  • We know plants have a fundamental role to play.

  • Well, first of all, they feed us

  • and they also give us the oxygen we breathe,

  • but plants are also the source

  • of important, biologically active ingredients

  • that we should be studying very carefully,

  • because human societies over the millennia,

  • they have developed important knowledge,

  • cultural traditions,

  • and important plant-based medicinal resources.

  • Here's a data point:

  • 1.4 percent of the entire land surface

  • is home to 40 percent of the species of higher plants,

  • 35 percent of the species of vertebrates,

  • and this 1.4 percent

  • represents the 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world,

  • and this 1.4 percent of the entire land surface

  • already provides for 35 percent

  • of the ecosystem services

  • that vulnerable people depend on.

  • And as you can see,

  • the island of Mauritius

  • where I work and where I live,

  • belongs to one such biodiversity hotspot,

  • and I study the unique plants

  • on the island for their biomedical applications.

  • Now, let's go back again

  • to that first plant I showed you,

  • the one, of course, with different-shaped leaves

  • and different sizes, Terminalia bentzoe,

  • subspecies bentzoe,

  • a plant only found in Mauritius.

  • Now, the local people,

  • they used a decoction of the leaves

  • against infectious diseases.

  • Now our work, that is,

  • the scientific validation of this traditional information,

  • has shown that precisely

  • that leaf extract shows activity, potent activity,

  • against a wide range of bacteria

  • that could be pathogenic to humans.

  • Now, could this plant be the answer

  • to antibiotic resistance?

  • You know, antibiotic resistance is proving to be

  • a big challenge globally.

  • While we may not be sure, one thing is certain:

  • we will not want this plant to disappear.

  • But the harsh reality is that

  • this particular plant is in fact

  • considered to be vulnerable

  • in its natural habitat.

  • This brings me to another example.

  • This bush here is known as baume de l'ile plate

  • in the local vernacular.

  • The botanical name is Psiadia arguta.

  • It's a plant which is rare,

  • which is endemic to Mauritius.

  • It used to grow on the mainland,

  • but through the sheer pressures of urbanization

  • has been pushed out of the mainland,

  • and we've managed to bring it back

  • from the brink of extinction

  • by developing in vitro plants

  • which are now growing in the wild.

  • Now, one thing I must point out straightaway

  • is that not all plants

  • can be developed in vitro.

  • While we humans, we are happy in our comfort zone,

  • these plants also need

  • their ecosystem to be preserved,

  • and they don't reactendemic plants

  • don't react to very harsh changes in their ecosystem,

  • and yet we know what are the challenges

  • that climate change, for example,

  • is posing to these plants.

  • Now, the local people again use the leaves

  • in traditional medicine

  • against respiratory problems.

  • Now, our preliminary labwork

  • on the leaf extract has shown

  • that precisely these leaves contain ingredients

  • that are very close, in terms of structures,

  • chemical structures, to those medicines

  • which are sold in the chemist's shop

  • against asthma.

  • So who knows

  • what humanity will benefit from

  • should this plant decide to reveal all its secrets.

  • Now, I come from the developing world

  • where we are forever being challenged with this issue

  • of population explosion.

  • Africa is the continent which is getting younger,

  • and whenever one talks about population explosion,

  • one talks about the issue of food security

  • as being the other side of the same coin.

  • Now this plant here, the baobab,

  • could be part of the answer.

  • It's an underutilized, neglected food plant.

  • It defines the landscape of West Africa,

  • where it is known as the tree of life,

  • and later on I will tell you why

  • the Africans consider it to be the tree of life.

  • Now interestingly, there are many legends

  • which are associated with this plant.

  • Because of its sheer size,

  • it was meant to be lording over lesser plants,

  • so God didn't like this arrogance,

  • uprooted it, and planted it upside down,

  • hence its particular shape.

  • And if you look at this tree again

  • within the African context,

  • in West Africa, it's known as the palaver tree,

  • because it performs great social functions.

  • Now if you have a problem in the community,

  • meeting under the palaver tree

  • with the chiefs or the tribesmen

  • would be synonymous to trying to find a solution

  • to that particular problem,

  • and also to reinforce trust and respect

  • among members of the community.

  • From the scientific point of view,

  • there are eight species of baobab in the world.

  • There's one from Africa,

  • one from Australia,

  • and six are endemic

  • to the island of Madagascar.

  • The one I have showed you

  • is the one from Africa,

  • Adansonia digitata.

  • Now, the flower, this beautiful white flower,

  • it opens at night, is pollinated by bats,

  • and it gives rise to the fruit

  • which is curiously known

  • as the monkey apple.

  • The monkeys are not stupid animals.

  • They know what's good for them.

  • Now, if you open the fruit of the baobab,

  • you'll see a white, floury pulp,

  • which is very rich in nutrients

  • and has got protein,

  • more protein than in human milk.

  • Yes, you heard right:

  • more protein than in human milk.

  • And this is one of the reasons why

  • the nutrition companies of this world,

  • they are looking for this fruit to provide

  • what we know as reinforced food.

  • The seeds give an oil, a very stable oil

  • which is sought after by the cosmetic industry

  • to give to produce body lotions, for example.

  • And if you look at the trunk,

  • the trunk, of course, safeguards water,

  • which is often harvested by a thirsty traveler,

  • and the leaves are used in traditional medicine

  • against infectious disease.

  • Now, you can see now why the Africans consider it

  • to be the tree of life.

  • It's a complete plant,

  • and in fact, the sheer size of these trees

  • is hiding a massive potential,

  • not only for the pharma, nutrition, and the cosmetic industry.

  • What I have showed you here

  • is only the species from Africa,

  • Adansonia digitata.

  • We have six species yet in Madagascar,

  • and we don't know what is the potential of this plant,

  • but one thing we know is that the flora

  • is considered to be threatened with extinction.

  • Let me take you to Africa again,

  • and introduce you to one of my very favorite,

  • the resurrection plant.

  • Now here you'll find

  • that even Jesus has competition.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, this plant here has developed

  • remarkable tolerance to drought,

  • which enables it to withstand

  • up to 98 percent dehydration over the period of a year

  • without damage,

  • and yet it can regenerate itself almost completely

  • overnight, over 24 hours, and flower.

  • Now, us human beings,

  • we're always on the lookout for the elixir of youth.

  • We don't want to get old, and rightly so.

  • Why should we, especially if you can afford it?

  • And this gives you an indication

  • of what the plant looks like before.

  • Now, if you are an inexperienced gardener,

  • the first thing you'll do when you visit the garden

  • is to uproot this plant because it's dead.

  • But if you water it, this is what you get.

  • Absolutely amazing.

  • Now, if you look at our aging process,

  • the aging process is in fact the loss of water

  • from the upper epidermis, resulting in wrinkling

  • as we know it, especially women,

  • we are so conscious of this.

  • And this plant, in fact, is giving the cosmetic chemists

  • very important ingredients

  • that are actually finding ways

  • to slow down the aging process

  • and at the same time reinforce the cells