University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

Physics and Astronomy Calendar

Friday, February 27th 2015
Speaker: Abena Dove Osseo-Asare, Department of History, University of Texas at Austin
Subject: From Plants to Pills: Take Bitter Roots for Malaria
Refreshments served in Room 216 Physics at 3:15 p.m.

How do plants become pharmaceuticals? In this talk, I examine the history of efforts to patent a treatment for malaria made from the bitter roots of fever vine (Cryptolepis sanguinolenta). Malaria is a serious health risk in tropical West Africa. In Ghana, where these bitter roots became known as "Ghana Quinine", a group of African scientists devoted their lives to creating a patented pharmaceutical from the plant. I consider their interactions with traditional healers from the 1940s, their struggles to establish a fledgling pharmaceutical industry, and the conflicts that complicated the success of the new drug in this postcolonial nation. This little known historical case provides a window into recent controversies surrounding biodiversity prospecting in tropical environments, the rights of indigenous peoples to shared benefits, and the quest for pharmaceutical patents. It is drawn from my recently published book, Bitter Roots: The Search for Healing Plants in Africa.

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