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Jakarta Post

Will Indonesia lose the next oil palm?

  • Rhett Butler

San Francisco, California   /   Mon, May 16 2011   /  10:32 am

Deep in the rainforests of Malaysian Borneo in the late 1980s, researchers made an incredible discovery: The bark of a species of peat swamp tree yielded an extract with potent anti-HIV activity. But when the scientists returned to the site to collect more material for analysis, they were shocked to find the tree, and its promise, gone.

Its disappearance triggered a frantic scramble to locate further specimens. Finally, a tree collected 100 years earlier was located in Singapore’s Botanical Garden. Subsequent studies revealed its bioactive compound, canalolide A, to show great potential in treating AIDS. An anti-HIV drug made from the compound is now nearing clinical trials. It could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year and help improve the lives of millions of people.

This story is significant for Indonesia because its forests house a similar species. In fact,...