Economic Botany

, Volume 66, Issue 3, pp 227–236

Distinguished Economic Botanist Award

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DOI: 10.1007/s12231-012-9209-0

Cite this article as:
Econ Bot (2012) 66: 227. doi:10.1007/s12231-012-9209-0
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The recipient of the 2012 Distinguished Economic Botanist Award from the Society for Economic Botany is Dr.Djaja (Doel) Djendoel Soejarto. Dr. Soejarto is Professor of Pharmacognosy in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, USA. He was editor of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology for many years, and is a world leader in the quest for new medicinal compounds from plants. Following is the text of Dr. Soejarto’s acceptance speech, which he presented at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the Society for Economic Botany, held jointly at Frostburg State University and Allegany College.

Dr. Djaja Djendoel Soejarto
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The Power of Collaboration

“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety–nine percent perspiration.”

—Thomas Alva Edison

On July 20 of last year, I received a letter from Dr. Rainer Bussmann informing me that I had been selected to be recognized as the 2012 Distinguished Economic Botanist. I felt elated. But soon that elation turned into a downcast feeling. Images came to my mind of the past Distinguished Economic Botanists: Julia F. Morton, Richard E. Schultes, Charles B. Heiser, Norman R. Farnsworth, Oswald Tippo, Herbert G. Baker, Varro E. Tyler, on and on. It was the question of “Have I done something worthwhile for such an award?” I looked back at what I have accomplished in my professional life. Then, after further reflection, I felt very grateful to the Society for conferring this high award to me. I express my thanks to the past, the present, the incoming President, and to the Members of the Council of the Society for this award. While feeling honored, I feel very humbled.

In my letter of award, Rainer gave me the mission to tell stories about my career path as an Economic Botanist. I will comply with this mission. However, space will allow me only to highlight some of my accomplishments.

As a graduate student at Harvard, I was most fortunate to have learned about Economic Botany from the true and great master of this scientific discipline, the late Professor Richard Evans Schultes. As a graduate student at Harvard, I also had rewarding interactions in the study of Economic Botany with my academic brothers, the late Timothy Plowman, Wade Davis, Robert Bye, Michael Balick, and Tom Lockwood. Soon after my Ph.D. graduation in 1968, I received a fellowship to serve as a Fellow of the Latin American Teaching Fellowships (LATF) Program at Tufts University School of Law and Diplomacy. I took up this fellowship in May 1969. As a Latin American Teaching Fellow, I was assigned to the Department of Biology at the University of Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia. My mission was to initiate projects and to strengthen the botany teaching and research through the education of students in my area of expertise. As expressed by the President of the LATF, Prof. William Barnes, my mission was “… to build a wheel and make the wheel spin, but not to be part of the wheel.”

It was a challenging, exciting, and definitely pleasant task to initiate my work at the University of Antioquia. I was appointed as the Head of a new Botany Section created by the Department of Biology. I structured several courses: General Botany, Plant Taxonomy, Plant Morphology, and Plant Geography. The General Botany course was very popular, with a class enrollment of more than 100 students. With the collaboration and support of Fabio Heredia, the Director of the Department of Biology, and Fernando Arias, the Dean of the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences, who provided support, funding, facilities, and the physical materials, and with the collaboration and support of my first students, I initiated to build a herbarium collection of the Biology Department. I took my first students, Ramiro Fonnegra, the late Jose Daniel Villa, Lucia Atehortúa, Maria Christina Vélez, Alberto Suárez, and Ligia Botero, out on field trips and we collected plants to be processed in the new herbarium room. I designed our own plant presses, plant dryer, and herbarium cases. I served as the Director of the Herbarium until 1976. The abbreviated name HUA (Herbarium of the University of Antioquia) was proposed to the International Association for Plant Taxonomy based in the Netherlands, which compiled the Index Herbariorum. When I left the University of Antioquia in 1976, the HUA had about 10,000 specimens in the collection holding.

October 24–28, 1994, the University of Antioquia celebrated the 25th anniversary of the founding of HUA, and the marking of specimen #100,000. As part of the event, a symposium on “Medicinal and/or Toxic Plants,” was convened by Ramiro Fonnegra, Ph.D., one of my former students, who was then a professor at the Department of Biology and Director of the HUA. More than 300 participants attended. I was a guest of honor, presenting five invited lectures. The University of Antioquia recorded the anniversary celebration in the Proceedings of the Symposium (Universidad de Antioquia 1994). On December 7, 1994, the most influential Colombian newspaper, El Espectador, had a big article about the HUA with a headline saying “El depósito de las plantas: El herbario de la Universidad de Antioquia cumplió 25 años de existencia” (Corréa 1994). In 2007, as part of the event of the IV Colombian Congress of Botany, the Colombian Association of Botany presented me with a plaque of recognition of my contribution in advancing the botanical science in Colombia. At that time, the HUA had a collection holding of about 150,000 specimens. Today, the Index Herbariorum (Index Herbariorum 2012) registers a collection holding of 180,000 for HUA, thanks to the effort of my former faculty colleagues and students, among whom Lucia Atehortúa, Ramiro Fonnegra, Jose Santa, Linda Albert de Escobar, and Felipe Cardona had taken charge as Directors of the Herbarium in alternating years. HUA is today the second largest herbarium institution in Colombia, after the National Herbarium in Bogota, which was founded in 1931 and has more than 500,000 specimens holding (Biodiversity Collections Index 2012; Index Herbariorum 2012; Universidad Nacional de Colombia 2012). The HUA has served as a resource to support botany teaching and research at the University of Antioquia, including research on the inventory of the flora of Antioquia, on economic botany, on ethnobotany, and on studies of medicinal and toxic plants.

In 1974, while I was a faculty member at the Department of Biology of the University of Antioquia, my former teacher, Richard E. Schultes, sent me a letter from Harvard wondering if I would be interested in working on a literature–based project on plants used for fertility regulation. My answer was “yes,” and I was appointed as a Research Associate in Ethnopharmacology at Harvard Botanical Museum for the period of 1974–1975. My mission was to compile information on plants for fertility regulation based on literature search (Soejarto 1976). The report I produced came to the hands of the managers of the Task Force on Plants for Fertility Regulation of the World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva. This was the beginning of my association with WHO (1977–1979) as a botanist–consultant, and a point of acquaintance and association with the late Professor Norman R. Farnsworth, a giant of pharmacognosy and then–Director of the Department of Pharmacognosy and Pharmacology at the College of Pharmacy of the University of Illinois Medical Center (now UIC). We co–authored papers on plants for fertility regulation (Farnsworth et al. 1981a; Soejarto et al. 1978).

At the end of my term with the WHO, I joined the Department of Pharmacognosy and Pharmacology. Here I served as a postdoctoral fellow of Norman Farnsworth, becoming a member of his drug discovery and development team, which included the building of a natural products database called NAPRALERT (Farnsworth et al. 1981b; Loub et al. 1985; NAPRALERT 2012). This online database is the premier source of information on the ethnobotany, chemistry, and pharmacology of bioactive compounds derived from plants. I have served as the botany editor of NAPRALERT since the beginning until today. At UIC, I also became closely associated with Harry H. S. Fong, Don Waller, and Geoffrey Cordell (Oshima et al. 1986; Waller et al. 1981, 1983). I also had an opportunity to practice the science of ethnobotany. The focus of my ethnobotany was explorations and discovery of non–sugar sweeteners of plant origin in collaboration with A. Douglas Kinghorn, who was a faculty member at UIC at that time, and with other colleagues at UIC. In 1981, 1982, and 1983 I traveled to Paraguay to carry out field studies on the sweet plant Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) Bertoni (Asteraceae). Two chapters in the book Stevia and the Genus Stevia, edited by Doug Kinghorn (Soejarto 2002a, b), summarize my Stevia work.

It was during my first trip to Paraguay and working in close collaboration with my colleague and friend, Eugenia Bordas, a professor at the College of Pharmacy of the University of Asunción, when we came across a sweet plant sold in the central market of Asunción, which the vendor declared as a “kaá heé” (sweet plant), a plant name in the Guarani language also applied to Stevia rebaudiana. Upon examining it, I knew that the plant was not Stevia rebaudiana. The plant was later identified as Tessaria dodoneifolia (Hook. & Arn.) Cabrera, belonging to the same family—Asteraceae—as that of Stevia rebaudiana. In order to isolate and identify the sweet compounds, we needed a large quantity of the tiny shoots of the plant, the part that tasted sweet. To accomplish this, I germinated the seeds that came in the samples I purchased from the market. Within three years, we had successfully obtained more than 5 kg of dried sample of the shoot part from plants planted in our greenhouse. This amount of material allowed the sweeteners team to isolate a non–sugar sweet compound, dihydroquercetin 3–acetate, which was evaluated by our sweeteners team to be 80x sweeter than sucrose. The chemist eventually modified the molecule, by making a synthetic analogue dihydroquercetin 3–acetate–4' (methyl ether), which is 400 times sweeter than sucrose (Dhammika et al. 1988). A patent was filed on this discovery. In 1983, Doug joined me to travel to Paraguay, Argentina, Colombia, and Costa Rica to carry out field research and field ethnobotanical inquiries on sweet–tasting plants. It was during this trip that we met distinguished colleagues and friends from these countries, who kindly collaborated and supported our field efforts: Eugenia Bordas, Aurelio Schinini, Gustavo C. Giberti, Pastor Arenas, and Luis Jose Poveda. Based on field organoleptic testing, and on ethnobotanical inquiries, we collected more than one dozen plants that tasted sweet. As a result of this trip, we published several sweeteners papers (Fullas et al. 1992; Hussain et al. 1990a, b).

As a faculty member at the present Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy, I have been responsible to coordinate the Medical Ethnobotany Track of the Pharmacognosy Graduate Program (http://tigger.uic.edu/~gfp/pharmacognosy/pharmacognosy.htm) since 1995. It has been a great pleasure and very satisfying to have successfully guided Ph.D. students in this track. These students undertook studies on medicinal plants as part of their dissertation based on fieldwork in overseas locations, including Guatemala (Medical Ethnobotany of the Q’eqchi Maya: Perceptions and Botanical Treatments Related to Women’s Health/Joanna Michel); Peru (Cashinahua Medical Ethnobotany and Antimycobacterial Evaluation of Peruvian Plants/James Graham); Kenya (Medical Ethnobotany of the Maasai: In vitro Evaluation of Traditional Anti–Malarials/Amanda Koch); Uganda (Studies of the Medical Ethnobotany of the Buganda Kingdom/Frank A. Hamill); Laos (Medical Ethnobotany of Laos/Amey S. Libman); Vietnam (Palatable Prophylaxis Based on Traditional Vietnamese Health Beliefs: An Appealing Approach to Medicine/Nguyen Thi Huu); Papua New Guinea (Integrative Pharmacognostic Evaluation of Anti–TB Ethnobotanicals from Manus/Ryan Case); and Samoa (Variability in Bioactive Molecules: Prostratin in Homalanthus nutans & BMAA in Nostoc & Cycas micronesica/Holly Johnson).

Also, as a faculty member at UIC, I have had the pleasure and honor to serve as an Editor and Editorial Secretariat of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology for a period of 16 years. During that period, the editorial office of the journal was based in Chicago. It was a distinct pleasure and privilege to interact closely with other distinguished co–editors: Laurent Rivier, the late Marvin Malone, Don P. Waller, Robert Verpoorte, Peter J. Houghton, Michael Heinrich, and Hiroshi Watanabe. In 2004, the editing process was upgraded to an online process, and the editorial office was transferred to Amsterdam, with a new editorial structure.

For the remainder of this narrative, I would like to highlight my career in Economic Botany during the past 25 years. The first is a series of contract awards from the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI), 1986–2004, and the second is the ICBG grant from the Fogarty International Center, 1998–present.

The NCI contracts had a mission to supply plant samples collected from the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia for anticancer and anti–HIV testing at the laboratories of the NCI. This exploration program was a collaborative endeavor between the UIC, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, and the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, for which I served as the Principal Investigator (Soejarto et al. 1996). Many other institutions, U.S.–based and Southeast Asia–based, and many botanists, U.S.–based and foreign–based, collaborated in this plant collection program. The administrative base of this project was at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with the support and collaboration of my colleague and a close friend, Charlotte Gyllenhaal, and at a later date, Marian R. Kadushn. The research base was at the Department of Botany of the Field Museum, of which I am a Research Associate at the Department of Botany. Charlotte and Marian’s support and collaboration were truly outstanding, for which I am forever grateful. The support of the Department of Botany of the Field Museum was also outstanding. Among U.S.–based scientists, I want to thank the support and collaboration of the following distinguished scientists, colleagues, and friends: Peter Ashton, the then Director of the Arnold Arboretum; Sy Sohmer, the then Director of the Bishop Museum; the late Benjamin Stone; the late Willem Meijer; David G. Frodin; John Burley; Andrew MacDonald; Gunapathy Varadarajan; Ahmad M. Huq; Steve Goodman; William Condon; and Mark Bush. Among Southeast Asia–based scientists, I wish to express thanks for the support, cooperation, and collaboration of Domingo Madulid, Justo Rojo, Engkik Soepadmo, Francis Ng, Simon Saulei, S. B. Malla, K. R. Rajbhandari, N. P. Manandhar, Yuan–Shiung Chang, Feng–Chi Ho, the late Tem Smitinand, Thawatchai Santisuk, the late Sudarsono Riswan, Warsita Mahyar, Elizabeth Wijaja, A. Church, S. I. Ali, and Abdul Gafoor. My sincere thanks also go to Max Van Balgooy, O. de Wilde, and Peter Baas from the National Herbarium of the Netherlands, Leiden, for their support and cooperation throughout the NCI–funded plant exploration program. We undertook plant collections in Balochistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. In the implementation of our collection program, we operated under the umbrella of a signed Letter of Collection (LOC) agreement between the NCI and the country of collection, in which issues on access and benefit sharing are spelled out (National Cancer Institute 2012). All samples we collected were dispatched to the Chief of the Natural Products Branch of NCI, Dr. Gordon M. Cragg, at the NCI Repository at Fredrick, Maryland. By the time the contract was terminated in 2004, 21,941 plant samples, comprising approximately 4,839 species of angiosperms, in 1,349 genera and in 271 families, were collected and submitted to the NCI Repository, while more than 100,000 herbarium specimens (including those collected without plant samples) were distributed to various botanical institutions. The plant samples we sent to the NCI were placed in storage at a temperature of –20o C until they were ready to be milled and extracted for anticancer and anti–HIV evaluation. All biological assays and in–depth follow–up chemical analyses were undertaken at the laboratories of the NCI at Frederick, Maryland.

A major contribution that resulted from this NCI–sponsored exploration program was the discovery by the NCI of the anti–HIV compounds, the calanolides: (+)–Calanolide A and (–)–Calanolide B (also called Costatolide). Calanolide A and Calanolide B have 100 % kill on HIV, with potential as antiretroviral drugs (reverse–transcriptase inhibitors), similar to the mechanism of action of the AIDS drug AZT. Calanolide A was isolated from Calophyllum lanigerum Miq. var. austrocoriaceum (Whitmore) P.F. Stevens (Clusiaceae), while Calanolide B was isolated from Calophyllum teysmannii Miq. var. inophylloide (King) P.F. Stevens. Both plants were collected in Sarawak, Malaysia. Calanolide B was found in abundance in the latex of C. teysmanni inophylloide, up to 66 % of yield weight by weight of the latex extractive. Furthermore, the source material (latex) may be harvested sustainably. It may be noted that the collection of C. lanigerum austrocoriaceum was serendipitous, as part of a general collection operation, whereas the discovery of C. teysmannii inophylloide was the results of a carefully planned survey and search of Calophyllum populations in Sarawak (Boyd et al. 1997; Fuller et al. 1994; Kashman et al. 1992; Lin et al. 1999; Soejarto et al. 1997). In June 1992, Calanolide A was approved by a Decision Network Meeting at the NCI for development into a drug to treat AIDS. In May 1993, Calanolide B was approved as an alternative candidate for development. In 1995, the compound Calanolide A was licensed to an Illinois–based pharmaceutical company, MediChem Research, after this company satisfied the requirements of the NCI in negotiating a raw material sourcing and a benefit–sharing arrangement with the government of Sarawak. These requirements are a condition of the Letter of Collection agreement (see earlier), which NCI signed with a host–country government, allowing the collection and export of plant samples by a NCI contractor to the NCI Repository at Frederick, Maryland. In 1996, this company successfully developed a method to produce Calanolide A through total synthesis (Flavin et al. 1996). In the same year, the company established a daughter company called Sarawak MediChem, a joint venture between MediChem Research and the State Government of Sarawak. By 2005, clinical trials Phase I–A and Phase I–B were completed and clinical trials Phase II–A was being scheduled (Highbeam Business 2012; hot Stocked 2012; Sarawak MediChem Pharmaceuticals 2012).

In 2006, ownership of Sarawak MediChem was transferred to the State Government of Sarawak and, as of December 2006, the company is a subsidiary of Sarawak government’s company, namely, Craun Research Sendirihan Berhad (Bloomberg BusinessWeek 2012). The latest news on the development of the calanolides came up in 2009, when the Deputy Chief Minister of Sarawak declared that “Sarawak is closer to producing anti–HIV drug” (The Star Online 2009). Last December (2011) I had an opportunity to visit Kuching, Sarawak for a different project. An officer of the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre confirmed that clinical studies on the Calanolides were continuing.

Aside from the development of potentially important drugs to treat AIDS, the discovery of the calanolides led to an important turning point in the biodiversity conservation and bioprospecting laws of the government of Sarawak. To protect the calanolide–producing plants and the biodiversity of the country, in June 1993 the government enacted an ordinance, Calophyllum Species Order, for the prohibition of felling and export of Calophyllum trees. This Calophyllum Species Order led to the enactment of the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre Ordinance in 1997 and, eventually, to the establishment of the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC) in 1998. The mission of SBC is “… to initiate programmes for the conservation, utilization, protection and sustainable development of biodiversity in the State of Sarawak” (Sarawak Biodiversity Centre 2012; The Calophyllum Story 2012).

In 1998, while the NCI contract was still ongoing, a multidisciplinary team of botanists, ethnobotanists, natural product chemists, biochemists, economists, biotechnologists, and an anthropologist and attorney, under my leadership as Principal Investigator (PI), was awarded an ICBG Grant (http://www.icbg.org/) to study the biodiversity of Vietnam and Laos (Soejarto et al. 1999). Our ICBG was known as the “Vietnam–Laos ICBG.” The primary goal of the project was the discovery of new bioactive compounds from plants of Vietnam and from medicinal plants of Laos, as potential candidates for pharmaceutical development for therapies against cancer, AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. The second goal was the promotion of biodiversity conservation in Vietnam and Laos, while the third goal was the promotion of economic development: (first) among communities that participated in the ICBG project, and (second) among the ICBG host institutions in Laos and Vietnam.

How did we propose to accomplish our goals?

We proposed to do that by structuring an elaborate organizational structure (Soejarto et al. 1999, 2006), in which our team was divided into four different subgroups called Associate Programs (AP). Each AP is directed by a Project Leader, and each AP is charged to perform specific tasks that respond to the goals of our ICBG. The functioning of the four APs—AP1, AP2, AP3, and AP4—was coordinated by the Group Program, led by the ICBG PI. We also proposed to accomplish our goals by setting down a comprehensive Memorandum of Agreement (Soejarto et al. 2004a) that covers issues on (1) Recognition of property and intellectual property rights; (2) Recognition of prior informed consent to the access to genetic resources and to indigenous medical knowledge; and (3) Recognition of the sharing of benefits that may arise as a result of the ICBG collaborative effort—short– and long–term benefits. In the performance of our ICBG ethnobotany research, we adhered to a UIC IRB–approved Research Protocol #H–97–1056 and #2003–0636.

By July 2008, a total of 4,691 plant samples had been collected through the “random” collection approach from the Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam, comprising 1,600 species of angiosperms. Through the “ethnobotany collection approach,” 1,420 plant samples, comprising ca. 1,300 species of angiosperms, had been collected through interviews, primarily with healers in Laos, and to a lesser degree, with healers in communities surrounding Cuc Phuong National Park. As a result of initial testing, 142 recollections have been made from the random collection approach, while 52 recollections from the ethnobotanical approach. All samples collected in the Vietnam–Laos ICBG were extracted using a standardized protocol. Then, the extracts were tested against cancer, HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria disease systems. As of October 2010, a total of 314 compounds had been isolated, represented by 102 new, 127 active, and 57 new and active compounds. Based on the naturally derived active molecules, synthetic analogues were made, for which we filed two provisional patents. One, as a potential drug to treat cancer (maytansinoids patent); the other, as a potential drug to treat AIDS (naphthalide lignans patent). At the moment, we are aggressively pursuing the licensing of these compounds. Further details about our ICBG drug discovery research are provided elsewhere (Soejarto et al. 2002, 2008). Another significant accomplishment was the success in 2006 of our Vietnam member of the consortium; namely, the Institute of Chemistry of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, Hanoi, in synthesizing Tamiflu (bird–flu drug) from shikimic acid isolated from the star anise seeds (People’s Daily Online 2006; VOV Online 2006). At this very moment, the Vietnam team has just completed the making of 25 new analogues of Tamiflu. We are in the process of schedule testing of these compounds in our laboratories.

Other achievements in the ICBG project in Vietnam, in biodiversity conservation, included the completion of the inventory of seed plants of CPNP (Soejarto et al. 2004b); discovery of plant records new to CPNP and to Vietnam, and of plant taxa new to science (Averyanov and Averyanova 2003); the posting of an online database of seed plants of Cuc Phuong National Park (http://fm2.fieldmuseum.org/plantatlas/); the establishment of the CPNP Herbarium (CPNP) (Index Herbariorum 2012); the establishment of a Threatened Plants Rescue Center; and the completion of a Conservation Awareness Program. In economic development, among our accomplishments in Vietnam were the promotion of living standards of members of communities in the Cuc Phuong Commune (Vu et al. 2007); the establishment of an Ethnomedicinal Plant Garden in the Cuc Phuong Commune; the documentation of the medicinal plants of the healers of Cuc Phuong (Xuan and Soejarto 2008); the strengthening of the research base and capacity of the Cuc Phuong National Park and the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology; and the establishment of a Biodiversity Conservation Support Program through funds provided by Glaxo SmithKline.

In Laos, our achievements included the strengthening of the human resource and the infrastructure of the Institute of Traditional Medicine; the establishment of a Medicinal Plants Database; the completion of the Mapping of Traditional Medicine of Laos; the establishment of the “Lao Biodiversity Fund” from funds provided by Glaxo SmithKline; the establishment of a Medicinal Plant Preserve at Somsavath village of Bolikamsai province and at other provinces, in particular, in Oudomxay, Vientiane, and Champasak; and the completion of an ethnobotanical survey of medicinal plants of Laos (Lao Biodiversity Fund 2007; Soejarto et al. 2009, 2012).

It has truly been a great pleasure and privilege to be working in close association with so many distinguished scientists and colleagues from the United States, the United Kingdom, and from Vietnam and Laos in the planning and execution of the Vietnam–Laos ICBG. Charlotte Gyllenhaal, Marian R. Kadushin, and Mary C. Riley have been my closest associates in running the ICBG project. At UIC, Harry H. S. Fong, John M. Pezzuto, Scott G. Franzblau, Hong–jie Zhang, Ghee Teng Tan, Lijun Rong, Cui–ying Ma, and Jimmy Orjala have been the pillars of the UIC–based drug discovery and development program. In Vietnam, Nguyen Van Hung, Nguyen Quyet Chien, Ho Minh Ly, Le Mai Huong, Dang Vu Minh, and Chau Van Minh have been the pillars in the drug discovery and development research, while Nguyen Tien Hiep, Phan Ke Loc, Le Xuan Canh, Dao Van Khuong, Truong Quang Bich, Nguyen Manh Cuong, Do Van Lap, Tran Van Thuy, Gregg Dietzman, and Jack Regalado have been the pillars in the biotic survey and biodiversity conservation, and Le Thi Xuan, Nong Van Hai, Le Xuan Dac, Bui Minh Vu, and Le Tran Binh have been the pillars in the economic development program. In Laos, Bounhong Southavong, Kongmany Sydara, Somsanith Bouamanivong, Amey Libman, and Bethany Elkington have been the pillars in our ICBG project in Laos. Melanie O’Neil and Jane Lewis provided support and collaboration on behalf of our Glaxo SmithKline industrial partner (1998–2001), while William Rose and Stuart Emanuel provided support and collaboration on behalf of Bristol–Myers Squibb. Our CBG functioned and operated under the guidance of Josh Rosenthal (ICBG Program Director), Flora Katz (ICBG Program Manager at the Fogarty International Center, NIH), and Yali Hallock (Member of Vietnam–Laos ICBG Advisory Committee, at the National Cancer Institute, NIH). To all of these individuals, I express my deepest thanks and appreciation for their support and collaboration, and for making the Vietnam–Laos ICBG a reality. Together, we have contributed in multiple ways to the advancement of economic botany through the discovery of novel bioactive compounds from plants of Vietnam and Laos as potential candidates for pharmaceutical development, while also promoting biodiversity conservation and improving the well being of communities in Vietnam and Laos.

In a nutshell, those are the highlights of my professional successes and accomplishments as an Economic Botanist. But work does not stop here. There is still a long way forward. The search for new medicines from our natural resources continues on. The discovery and development of new medicinal compounds from plants are needed to help alleviate human sufferings and to sustain the health of the global community.

I am not a born genius. I have achieved my successes through hard work and persistence. More importantly, I believe in the POWER OF COLLABORATION. Many things that appear to be unreachable can be achieved and accomplished through collaboration and teamwork. I owe my successes and accomplishments to my distinguished mentors. Their teaching and guidance have made it possible for me to advance in my professional career: First, the late Prof. André Joseph Kostermans, Distinguished Professor and Plant Taxonomist, Herbarium Bogoriense, Bogor, Indonesia, who initiated and taught me the science of plant taxonomy; second, the late Prof. Richard Evans Schultes, Father of Ethnobotany, Paul Mangelsdorf, Professor of Natural Science, and Edward Jeffrey, Professor of Biology, Harvard University; and third, the late Professor Norman Robert Farnsworth, Distinguished University Professor and a Giant in Pharmacognosy, who redefined “Pharmacognosy as the botany, chemistry and pharmacology of natural products.” My fervent thanks go to “Mi Amor,” my beloved wife, Mariela … her love and support have made it possible for me to realize my professional dreams … and of course, also to my children, Alex, Sandy, and Maggie, for their love and support.

“In the long history of humankind … those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

—Charles Darwin

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