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Text-mining for Medicinal Plants

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the clever-convergence dept.

Biotech 15

Damien1972 writes "Researchers are exploring ancient texts for medicinal plant information using text-mining. From Shamans and Robots: Bridging the Past and Future of Ethnobotany and Bioprospecting: "A new procedure that is being explored by researchers to track and classify useful medicinal plant species may negate some of the issues surrounding the acquisition of knowledge ... This method involves a practice called "text-mining," in which old botanical works are scoured for references to medicinal plants.""

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Wikipedia (4, Insightful)

BrookHarty (9119) | more than 9 years ago | (#12338861)

This would be a good use for Wikipedia, each plant's information should be put into into this opensource encyclopedia.

I see this as part of the problem, getting the information out, reporting plants drug use out of books into a format more people can use. Perfect use for Wikipedia.

Re:Wikipedia (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12338899)

Damn I hate when I alt-tab to check an email, tab back and continue my post... I get multiple words where I left off. As the "into into" in my post. Wish slashdot had an edit command.

ethnobotany, plants, and patents (2, Informative)

falconwolf (725481) | more than 9 years ago | (#12341582)

This would be a good use for Wikipedia, each plant's information should be put into into this opensource encyclopedia.

I see this as part of the problem, getting the information out, reporting plants drug use out of books into a format more people can use. Perfect use for Wikipedia.

Getting the information out is part of the problem however there's more to it than simply listing it on Wikipedia or other databases, whether open 'sauce' or proprietary. As the article points out it takes people to study the culture of indigenous peoples and learn how they use different plants which brings up a problem indegenous people are having with outsiders, biopiracy. Scientists, usually working for pharmaceutical or other companies learn about some medical treatment using a plant or part of the plant then they go and slap a patent on it. An example of this is the ayahuasca vine or Banisteriopsis caapi of the Amazon Forest. American Indian tribes throughout the Amazon have been using it for centuries if not millenia and the Coordinating Body for the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), a group of Amazonian people had to fight a patent the US Patent and Trademark Office issued to International Plant Medicine Corporation based in California for the plant. Here's a short article on it, Amazon Indigenous Win Patent Dispute Over Ayahuasca. [forests.org] A search for "biopiracy" on Google News [google.com] returns 25 results from the Amazon to New Zealand. A Google search of the web returns more than 70,000 results. An article was posted here on /. in November about how an Iraqi law required farmers to pay a licensing fee just in case they used GE seed. Iraq law Requires Seed Licenses [slashdot.org]

Falcon

What about the ancient practice... (3, Interesting)

PsiPsiStar (95676) | more than 9 years ago | (#12338967)

of reading. I can see how this might help with people who don't read greek, but with machine translation, that's not an issue.

As the saying goes; a month in the lab can save you a whole day in the library. Is this really new in a good way? Given the fact that many plants have alternate names, some have the same name, etc. it seems that familiarity with one's subject material is not a particularly useful thing to shortcut-out. Consider, for example, the parable of the 'mustard seed' in the gospels. A grown mustard plant is described as a great tree. Huh?! Even when people are familiar with the text, translations of old plant names are often difficult.

I'd just as soon read a machine translation of the bible or tartouffe than rely upon this technique. In fact, I'd sooner read a machine translation of the bible. Even if it mistranslated things, at least it'd be less likely to gloss the text. But that's not so much a problem with ethnobotany.

"Text mining" is a solution which found the wrong problem.

Grep? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12339140)

Textmining being a stupid word for search then? Imagine if they discover regexp... the power...

What?! (1)

nathanmace (839928) | more than 9 years ago | (#12339471)

"may negate some of the issues surrounding the acquisition of knowledge"

Perhaps I am missing something but this makes it sound like there are people who are against this project. Other than some people objecting to this being a waste of time (I don't think it is), what else is there to be "negative" about? I mean the authors of these works have been dead for quite some time.

Re:What?! (2, Insightful)

MisterTut (663350) | more than 9 years ago | (#12339665)

Interesting information in this article, but it is really badly written, as if by a college kid the morning the paper is due. Sloppy thinking.

The "negative" is that "westerners" (a laughable term when talking about, say, indigenous Brazilians vs US Drug companies, as this article begins with) ask native Shamen for information about useful plants, then take that powerful knowledge and make lucrative drugs without allowing compensation to flow back to the indigenous people.

OK, that is a negative, I concede. But. The article says that the issue is somewhat negated by not asking the shamen, but going to the written record.

Anyway, what ancient texts do the Yanomamo people have, anyway? Are there ancient medicinal texts of Madagascar? The cultures that tend to have these texts probably don't have the issues this article is talking about.

Seems like a case of an author with information to present, but no good idea for an angle.

Re:What?! (1)

MisterTut (663350) | more than 9 years ago | (#12339730)

OK, I missed the bottom of the artical where it was mentioned that old surveys of third-world plant life are moldering away unread in libraries.

This still doesn't seem to have anything to do with ethics, though. Unless "ethics" is merely used as a term for balming the guilty consciences of first-world drug executives.

Re:What?! (1)

tao_of_biology (666898) | more than 9 years ago | (#12339710)

Actually, I think the issues they're talking about are mainly time. Not so much that this project is a waste of time, but that it would take an enormous amount of time to do an equally exhaustive search of all of these ancient texts by hand... assuming it's even possible to do an equivalent search by hand (which it's probably not, due to the complexity of the text mining algorithms).

Ethnology and biopiracy (1)

falconwolf (725481) | more than 9 years ago | (#12341693)

Perhaps I am missing something but this makes it sound like there are people who are against this project. Other than some people objecting to this being a waste of time (I don't think it is), what else is there to be "negative" about? I mean the authors of these works have been dead for quite some time.

What problem do people have with it? One word, "biopiracy'.

Falcon

Re:What?! (1)

wallykeyster (818978) | more than 9 years ago | (#12377446)

TFA talks about big drug companies benefitting from native people (shamans and such) without returning any of the profits. The sentence that you quoted finished with bypassing some of the controversy, in reference to the corporations' exploitation of the local people. This new process allows the companies to exploit historical documentation instead of contemporary individuals.

Then comes the "Ooops." (3, Insightful)

Red Rocket (473003) | more than 9 years ago | (#12340681)


Ooops. We wiped out that plant's habitat to build a highway.
Ooops...Football stadium.
Ooops...McMansions.
Nothing left to see here. Move along and look for another miracle plant.

only 7 comments! (1)

Mr2cents (323101) | more than 9 years ago | (#12341014)

This must be the least popular topic in years!

slash dot (2, Funny)

galdur (829400) | more than 9 years ago | (#12342174)

Last post!

Re:slash dot (1)

Dr. GeneMachine (720233) | more than 9 years ago | (#12342351)

You fail it...
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