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Presented by: Prof. A. N. Rao
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Tropical Medicinal Plants
Physical Features & Flora
 Peninsular Malaya, 131,700 km²
 Sarawak and Sabah
 Part of mainland of Asia, continuation of
 Bigger land area. Borneo island - 740,000 km²
(Third largest island in the world)
 Singapore at Southern tip.
 Number of flowering plant species - 13,056
 - 12th biggest biodiversity in the world.
Next to Indonesia with 20,000 species
 2850 tree species - eudemism very high
 Sabah 73600 km², Sarawak 124450 km²
 Almost same or even more.
 No flora of the two states worked out yet
 Brunei 5765sqkm. Less than 1% of the whole
Checklist published in 1996.
 Total land area for Malaysia, 329,750 km²
Scientific Culture in Malaysia
1. Scientific culture is very young, about 50 years old, Independence from the colonial rule in 1957.
2. Records on Traditional medicines are varied and fragmentary, very few in Malay language.
3. Malaysia is unique - Malay, Chinese and Indians are living together for the last 5 centuries.
4. The traditional medicinal systems are practiced by the rural and local people. It is common to see
that all the three types of medicinal systems are used by the people.
5. The colonial rulers started recording the use of local plants used by the natives; dictionary of
economic products of Malaya published in 1935 by I H Burkill, following Watt’s dictionary of
6. About 1,200 plant species were discussed as medicinal plants, gathering the details available till
then, both about local and introduced plant species.
Ethnobotanical Details
1. The information obtained and recorded was mostly obtained from the local people.
2. Cross regional usages are frequently mentioned including details from Indonesia, Thailand,
Philippines and other S.E. Asian countries.
3. Chemotaxonomic approach and ethnopharmacological methods were followed to screen the
chemical composition of certain plant species in Mount Kinabalu - the highest mountain
between Himalayas and Australian mountains.
4. Some success resulted in identifying the alkaloid contents of certain species in a few families.
5. There are 5500 types of alkaloids. Certain alkaloids are found only in members of one family.
Ex. Bombacaeae. - Many alkaloids are present in members of Solanaceae, Rubiaceae,
Rananculaceae, etc.
6. What you search for and where is important. Mount Kinabalu experience and results were very
Phytochemical Research
Of the 250,000 higher plant species, existing worldwide, 60% of them are present in the tropics.
Only a small percentage of these are investigated to determine the bioactive compounds in them.
About 95 tropical plant species were phytochemically analyzed to produce 121 useful plant
74 plant species were listed as major medicinal plants
walk on phytochemical research in Malaya was started in early 1960s. Many papers were
The research on natural products is continuing on the same lines in several universities in the
country and FRIM.
Most of the results are of academic value; in depth studies should be conducted on a few
potential species to develop drugs for global market.
If successful, economic benefits would be very great running to several billion US dollars.
Collaboration with other Institutions
• In 1960-70, drug plant materials were sent to different laboratories in USA regularly
for phytochemical analysis.
• Work was on contract basis for ex. Smith Kline and French Co. USA. Charges for
collaboration and despatch was paid by the receiving institutions.
• Remuneration received was handsome.
• Of late plant materials were collected by a few well known institutions in USA,
National Cancer Institute, School of Pharmacy, Univ. of Chicago.
• Successful story of Calophyllum lanigerum - a tree species from Sarawak
• Anti HIV compound was isolated - Calanolide A.
• The research credit and patent was acquired by scientists in USA, a disappointing
experience for Malaysia
Improvements Needed
• Many improvements needed to overcome the existing disadvantages.
• Lack of funds.
• Lack of facilities, coordination in research.
• Lack of infrastructure for plant analysis and bioassay.
• Lack of manpower - Taxonomy, cytology, plant chemistry, research workers
to carry out investigations
• Lack of expertise in the field to develop products for global market.
• Greater collaboration with experts in the other countries needed.