Encaustic painting ÒCalophyllumÓ by Raquel Edwards

In 1987, botanist John Burley collected samples of the rare Calophyllum lanigerum var austrocoriaceum from a rainforest in Borneo. Back in the lab, the tree samples showed promising activity against HIV-1, including strains of the virus that were resistant to antiretroviral drugs. Researchers returned to the area to gather additional material for research, only to find the trees had been felled. Shortly thereafter, Borneo banned the felling and export of Calophyllum and an in-depth global search for additional trees began.  Fortunately, the British had collected specimens nearly a century earlier and had placed them in the Singapore Botanic Garden.

Today, research continues into Calophyllum’s active compounds and the trees have exhibited anti-cancer, anti-parasitic, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. One of the more promising discoveries has been the isolation of  (+)-calanolide A, an alkaloid which has been identified as an active agent against both HIV-1 and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The alkaloid is currently in development as a novel therapeutic agent against HIV-1 infection.

In this instance researchers were fortunate to have found the trees preserved in a botanical garden, but 46,000 to 58,000 square miles of forest are lost each year (the equivalent of 48 football fields every minute). As the forests fall, we are losing some 135 plant, animal and insect species every day—or some 50,000 species a year. To read more about the impact of deforestation and how you can help visit https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation.