Rainforests and Our Daily Lives

As far away as rainforests may be, they are intimately connected with our daily lives. It may be as prosaic as a forest product that we enjoy. It may be as all encompassing as the dire threat climate change poses for all. In other instances it could be a useful medicine. Or, it could be the fundamental living library with untold numbers of species, the study of which advances the life sciences in hard-to-predict but fundamentally important ways.

A fascinating example of the latter involves a poisonous viper of the new world tropical forests, the Bushmaster. Scientists in Brazil studied how the venom works to cause the blood pressure of its prey to drop to zero, and thereby discovered the angiotensin system of blood pressure regulation. Venom does not work as a medicine because the digestive system denatures proteins, but knowing that the system existed they were able to devise a molecule that acts on it. That produced the class of drugs known as ACE-inhibitors. So tens of millions of people in the world lead longer, healthier and more productive lives because of the biology of a nasty snake in a far away rainforest. That potential exists in every species, and is why the rainforests are not only beautiful and fascinating but very useful.

Camp 41

Camp 41 is three hours drive by four wheel truck from the major Brazilian
city of Manaus in the middle of the Amazon, and sits in intact forest that is almost unbroken from there to the
Guianas along the northern coast of
South America.

It is one of several research camps set up for the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments project set up as a
collaboration between the United States and Brazil in 1978. The Brazilian partner is the National Institute for Amazon Research (INPA); the partner for the last two decades has
been the Smithsonian Institution.

Its primary research purpose is to
understand the changes caused by breaking a forest in fragment and contribute to improved reserve design
and management. It also has trained hundreds of the next generation of Amazon basin nationals ecologists, as
well as provided training for decision makers. It continues to make a major contribution to the future of the Amazon.

camp 41