Friday, March 24, 2006

Environmental #1.

Save Our Species (NB. This has been published)

You’ve heard all the arguments a million times – the list of endangered species is getting longer, and we’re on that list – animals have rights too, you know, and they’re not ours to destroy. And all that is true.

But as we face the Aids pandemic, as bird flu threatens millions, as cancer in all its forms resists a cure, we have one more good reason to stave off extinction for those who share our planet – the cures and remedies for all our ills are probably out there waiting to be discovered – and they are probably in the most unlikely of places too.

Take the case of the saliva from the Gila monster, a lizard from the American Southwest – a new drug, marketed under the name ‘Byetta’ has been made from the lizard’s saliva, and is now being used to combat that omnipresent chronic ailment – diabetes.

It seems that the Gila lizard can survive on very little food – it is able to digest what it eats phenomenally slowly, and now the drug made from the creature’s saliva gland extracts has proved not only to control blood sugar for longer periods, but also to decrease appetite, which leads to weight loss.

Type 2 diabetes, sometimes known as ‘middle age onset’ diabetes (I suffer from it myself) can also be brought on by obesity at any age, and can and does afflict children who are overweight.

In America alone, 18 million people now have the ailment, with over 200 million worldwide. In the Middle East it is rampant, afflicting children as well as older people.

I am not sure of the fate of this monster, but my point is that prior to finding out about the life enhancing qualities of its saliva, nobody much cared whether it lived or died. Lizards are not particularly attractive – and they’re not particularly photogenic, which counts a lot these days. Everyone wants to save the Giant Panda – “those things are so cuddly, aren’t they?” but who cares about lizards and snakes, spiders and scorpions – what we used to call –‘creepy-crawlies’ – the world would be better off without them – right?

Wrong! Every creature has the right to be here – just like us – and there are other good reasons for believing so besides the ethical ones.

Robert L. Fielding


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