Mark Plotkin – Why Ethnobotanists Don’t Read Science Fiction

Enjoy this excerpt of Mark Plotkin’s address to the Bioneers Conference and watch the full talk here.

“I’m here this morning to tell you why ethnobotanists like myself don’t read science fiction. This is not a picture of a spider. This is a picture of a fungus. It’s my favorite fungus. It’s called cordyceps.

Cordyceps lives quiescent on the forest floor and waits for insects and arachnids to go past. Once they do that, the fungus attaches itself to the insect exoskeleton. Once it’s on that, the fungus burns a hole in the insect exoskeleton. It then inserts itself inside the insect exoskeleton. It then proceeds to devour virtually all of the insect’s non-vital organs. Once it’s done that, the fungus invades the insect brain, eating only a part of the insect brain, causing the insect to climb to the top of the tallest tree in the forest. Once it does that, the fungus eats the rest of the insect brain, thereby causing the insect exoskeleton to split open, thereby allowing the fungus to release its spores 120 feet above the forest floor.This is why ethnobotanists do not read science fiction.

This fungus is the source of cyclosporine. This is an immunosuppressant that makes organ transplant surgery possible. Nature is a deep treasure chest of mysteries, and most of them still remain.”

Mark Plotkin, groundbreaking ethnobotanist and author of seminal books including “Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice”, works closely with Indigenous peoples and uncontacted tribes in the northwest Amazon. As co-founder of the Amazon Conservation Team in 1995, he has worked as a partner with over 30 South American tribes, including the Kogi, to map, manage and protect over 70 million acres of ancestral forests. In his full address, Plotkin describes collaboration with elder healers to develop and implement successful “Shamans and Apprentices” programs to transmit sacred healing information down through generations within the tribes themselves.

This speech was given at the 2016 National Bioneers Conference.

Image courtesy WikiCommons: This image is Image Number 0014287 at Insect Images, a source for entomological images operated by The Bugwood Network at the University of Georgia and the USDA Forest Service.


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