Benefits of Biodiversity

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Thu Jan 27 00:41:29 CST 2005

Greetings All,

I'm contemplating writing a short popular article explaining the inherent
value of biodiversity, in terms that a non-biologist/non-scientist can
appreciate. I would like to include a few examples of how organisms
(particularly microorganisms) have, through eons of evolution, developed
biochemical machinery (coded-for by genes), which perform functions that an
average non-biologist/non-scientist would perceive as valuable (or
potentially valuable) to humankind.

As a very general example, plants have evolved the biochemical machinery to
convert sunlight energy into stored chemical energy with far greater
efficiency than any solar cell we humans have built. Perhaps someday we'll
learn enough about how plants pull this trick off that we can vastly improve
our own ability to harness solar enegry with greater efficiency.

I would like to get a few good specific examples to point to, as
representing only the tip of the iceberg of the anthropocentric value of
information contained within the collective global biodiversity genome.
"Natural Products" of medicinal value are a bit cliche, but one or two solid
examples would be helpful.  Examples of genetic engineering would be good
too, provided it involves taking naturally-occuring genes from one organism
and placing them within another organism, to produce something of value to
humans (e.g., revealing the locations of burried landmines; breaking down
polutants in soil, etc.)

The basic point I want to make in this article is that collectively, the
global biodiversity genome represents a vast library of information --
written, edited, proofed, and re-written over billions of years -- and that
we are only just beginning to learn how to "translate" these genetic
"texts". I've found that one of the most effective way to get
non-biologists/non-scientists to appreciate the value of biodiversity is to
put it in practical terms (=how it helps humans live happier, healthier

I'm already familiar with a number of such examples, but I haven't stayed
current -- so any examples of this sort (with pointers to where I can learn
more about them) would be most appreciated.


Richard L. Pyle, PhD
Ichthyology, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at

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