Researchers find remedies for poison plants on Tibetan grasslands


Scientists said on Monday that they have “tamed” poisonous wild plants on the Tibetan plateau, an achievement that can help protect livestock and prevent desertification.


Researchers with Tibet’s Academy of Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Sciences have developed drugs to protect against the effects of locoweed, a common name for any plant that produces swainsonine, a phytotoxin harmful to livestock.


Wang Baohai, a researcher with the Lhasa-based academy, said the remedies include therapeutic liquid for oral administration based on Western medicine and preventive pills based on traditional Chinese medicine.


“According to clinical tests, the liquid can cure 95% of livestock poisoned by locoweed,” said Wang Jinglong, another expert with the academy. “China has granted it a national patent.”


The researchers have also figured out a comprehensive mechanism for locoweed prevention and treatment. They removed locoweed in a fenced area of grassland, where poisoned livestock can be isolated and recover.


Herdsmen call locoweed the enemy of grasslands because livestock show symptoms of intoxication after eating the plant, which causes animal reproduction rates to drop and can even cause death. Its rampant growth can lead to grassland degradation.


In Tibet alone, locoweed is distributed across a total area of nearly 7 million hectares, leading to economic losses of more than 100 million yuan (US$16 million) annually.


It is not a totally useless plant, however, as according to Tsering Dorje, an academic with Tibet’s Academy of Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Sciences, it is a valuable Chinese herbal medicine and can be edible after a detoxicification processing. “It has huge economic potential,” he said.


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