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Native plants only found in WA could help battle cancer

WA’s native plants are a treasure trove of unique chemicals that could yield the breakthrough for the next blockbuster “pill in a bottle”, according to the State’s top scientist.

Peter Klinken said the vast array of plants found only in WA was a potential multibillion-dollar opportunity going untapped at a time when the State was crying out for economic diversification.

Professor Klinken said the pharmaceutical industry had been built on drugs and medicines that used natural compounds from plants and other flora to treat illnesses from cancer to bacterial infections.

Salt Bush has health benefits.
Camera IconSalt Bush has health benefits.Picture: Natalie Slade

In WA alone, he said a salt bush contained a molecule that had “anti-AIDS activity in a test tube”, while another plant had a compound that had been shown to fight breast cancer cells.

He likened WA’s native plants to the State’s mineral reserves, saying they were a “comparative advantage” that had the potential to become similarly lucrative.

But unlike mineral resources, Professor Klinken said legislation blocked the commercialisation of WA’s plant life by banning people from taking native flora.

To overcome this, he is pushing for new laws that would allow bio-prospecting, where samples can be taken lawfully from native plants for scientific and commercial research.

“I see that as our huge opportunity to create a competitive advantage out of a comparative advantage,” Professor Klinken said.

“We’re blessed with these natural resources. We can identify new antibiotics, anti-cancer agents, anti-fungal agents.

“We can find chemicals that humans couldn’t dream of designing because Mother Nature has been around a bit longer than us.”

Professor Klinken said he was “100 per cent confident” that commercialising the State’s native plants would have little to no environmental effect.

WA Chief Scientist Peter Klinken.
Camera IconWA Chief Scientist Peter Klinken.Picture: Steve Ferrier

He said compounds found to be valuable could be be reproduced synthetically, while any plant with compounds that could not be reproduced could be farmed.

Mr Klinken said the loss of biodiversity because of climate change and the risk of losing knowledge held by Aboriginal elders meant it was imperative to act.

“I cannot for the life of me understand why we aren’t doing it,” he said.

“If we want to diversify our economy, we have become reliant on our resource and agricultural sectors.”

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