Article image

Chemists could be key to prevent animal extinction

In the face of escalating animal extinction, an emerging field of conservation medicine suggests that chemists and pharmacists could play a crucial role in reversing this grim trend.

The researchers propose that integrating the expertise of medicinal chemists into wildlife conservation is a strategy that could potentially save numerous plant and animal species from the brink of extinction.

Chemists and animal extinction

The scientist leading this initiative, Timothy Cernak, a professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, emphasizes the critical need for medicinal chemistry in conservation.

“Medicinal chemistry expertise is desperately needed on the frontlines of extinction,” said Professor Cernak. “Animals are dying at staggering rates, but they don’t have to. Modern bioscience has achieved enormous breakthroughs in treating human diseases, and the same medications and science can be applied in the wild.”

Professor Cernak’s lab not only focuses on drug discovery for human conditions but has also begun applying its findings to combat diseases in wildlife, such as the deadly fungus devastating amphibian populations.

This multifaceted approach to both human and animal health is gaining traction, and the research actively promotes the role of chemistry in conservation.

Expanding the conservation toolkit

The push for a collaborative approach in conservation is evident as Professor Cernak and his team, including local high school students, encourage professionals from various fields to join forces.

“We are chasing mass die-offs around the world,” said Professor Cernak, listing species from lowland gorillas to the akikiki bird of Hawaii as being in critical danger. “It’s crucial to bring the power of modern pharmaceuticals and the dosing expertise of medicinal chemistry into conservation efforts.”

By integrating medicinal chemistry, Professor Cernak believes that immediate, impactful interventions can be made in wildlife disease, a major driver of the current mass extinction.

The work in his lab includes using advanced techniques to test chemical compounds on affected wildlife, identifying potential treatments for diseases that are currently decimating species like the Panamanian golden frogs.

Future conservation efforts

Beyond immediate interventions, Cernak envisions a larger role for pharmaceutical companies and emerging scientists in the field of conservation medicine.

“At the higher level, my mission is to have pharmaceutical companies be involved in this space and young scientists view this as the field they want to go into – a field that doesn’t really exist at this point,” he noted.

The immediate goal includes fundraising and expanding research to further establish the value of this nascent field.

The urgency of this mission is exemplified by recent incidents like the mass die-off of sea lion pups in Argentina from avian flu, highlighting the potential public health implications of wildlife diseases.

Additionally, the researchers are pioneering the use of AI and other technologies to expedite the drug discovery process, potentially enabling quicker responses to emerging threats to wildlife health and preventing further extinctions.

A collaborative future in conservation

The research efforts advocate for a harmonious integration of medicinal chemistry with the ongoing efforts of veterinarians and conservationists.

“Bringing chemists and pharmacists into the conservation fold isn’t meant to diminish the roles of other professionals but to blend their experience and achieve the same goals of saving lives – and ecosystems,” explained Professor Cernak.

The concept of “One Health Pharmacy,” which recognizes the interconnected health of plants, animals, and humans, is central to Cernak’s philosophy.

This approach treats any living being – plant or animal – that is sick or in need, thereby reinforcing the link between human and environmental health.

Harnessing chemistry to combat animal extinction

The advancements in technology, particularly AI, are not only transforming drug discovery for human patients but are also setting the stage for future conservation efforts.

“Streamlining drug and agrochemical discovery with automation and artificial intelligence is likely to usher in a future era of accelerated medicinal invention tailored to specific patient populations,” said the researchers.

They envision a future where medicinal chemistry can be directly applied to solve specific health issues in endangered species, offering new hope in the fight against extinction.

This innovative approach marks a significant shift in how conservation efforts may be conducted in the future, illustrating the potential for cross-disciplinary collaborations to foster solutions that benefit both wildlife and human populations alike.

The full study was published in the journal Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.


Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates. 

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and


News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day