Polar Ice Changes, 1979-2005 (NASA)
The Jim Lehrer NewsHour recently featured a great story on the profound impact of climate change on biodiversity. A variety of animals, from polar bears to cone snails, are in grave danger of extinction because of changes to their ecosystems. The story focused on what species extinction means for biomedical research.
Take the polar bear, for example. There's no debate that the polar ice cap is melting at an unprecedented rate. Some predictions have summer sea ice disappearing - permanently - within this century. As the ice disappears, so do polar bears.
With their demise would go an opportunity to understand how polar bears avoid Type 2 Diabetes despite becoming morbidly obese in the months leading up to summer (when they cannot hunt seals and must live off of fat reserves). Type 2 diabetes is at epidemic proportions in this country, affecting more than 20 million Americans, costing tens of billions of dollars in health care costs.
Another example: one of the most effective drugs against ovarian cancer, Taxol, came from the bark of the Pacific yew tree. Rampant deforestation in many parts of the world is wiping out unique plant and animal species, from which the next anti-cancer drug might be discovered.
The video is definitely worth a look. Eric Chivian, 1985 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, is the featured scientist. His article in the Harvard Medical Alumni Bulletin is also a nice read.