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Biochemical, medicinal and pharmaceutical resources

Biological materials that can be used for medicines, biocides and food additives. This includes test and assay organisms, medical tools, drugs and specimens for students.


Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Service Category

Provisioning Services


What are biochemical, medicinal and pharmaceutical resources and how are they derived?

The oil from paw paw is known to sooth some bites and itches.

Fish oil is known to assist in blood regulation and eating fish can play a positive role in mental health.

Genetic and pharmacological resources form the basis of natural product research aimed at developing new pharmaceutical products. Queensland's proximity to naturally occuring and unique plants, animals and microbes together with its established capabilities in comprehensively curated specimen collections, discovery of novel compounds, bioproduct design and synthesis of chemicals and pre-clinical trials provides a competitive advantage in biodiscovery/natural product development. Therefore, maintaining the quality of these resources is important to maintaining and further developing a viable domestic industry and attracting international interest.

Medicinal treatments for human diseases have been sourced from natural products produced by animals, plants and microbes for decades. For example, in 1994 it was discovered that Wollemi pine may contain a substance that could also be used to treat cancer. Today, pharmaceuticals derived from natural products continue to contribute signicantly to the range of drugs available. For example, between January 1981 to June 2006, 47% of cancer drugs and 37% of all small molecule new chemical entities for all disease catergories were either natural products or directly derived there from. In addition to this, biologicals underpin major markets for natural personal care, cosmetics, botanicals, flavour and fragrance, and food and beverage industries. In short, biochemicals, medicines and pharmaceuticals are beneficial to humans because they provide treatments for improved wellbeing. Many possible uses of biological material still remain unknown and it is therefore important to maintain this service for future options.

Table 1 below presents the magnitude different ecosystem services contribute to the provision of biochemical, medicinal and pharmaceutical resources (relative to other ecosystem functions). The provision of this service is similar to 'Genetic Resources for Cultivated Products'. The higher the amount of biodiversity the wider the range of genetic resources and potential biochemicals. A loss of biodiversity leads to a reduction in the range of genetic resources available for potential applications. The regulating functions, climate regulation, soil retention, pollination and biological control will influence the diversity of genetic resources through the maintenance of biodiversity.

Supporting habitats and their foundations (e.g. soil formation) ensures the long term sustainability of these materials. Although biological materials can be stored ex situ, the viability and usefulness of the biological resource depends on the conditions under which they are preserved. Maintaining natural populations in situ provides a long term and sustainable resource (genetic resource bank) for future generations.


Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem functions) each ecosystem function contributes to Biochemical, Medicial and Pharmaceutical Resources.

Ecosystem Function Category Ecosystem Function 0
Regulating Functions
Gas Regulation

Climate Regulation

Disturbance Regulation

Water Regulation

Soil Retention

Nutrient Regulation

Waste Treatment and Assimilation


Biological Control

Barrier Effect of Vegetation

Supporting Functions
Supporting Habitats

Soil Formation

Provisioning Functions

Raw Materials

Water Supply

Genetic Resources

Provision of Shade and Shelter

Pharmacological Resources

Cultural Functions
Landscape Opportunity


ARE HUMAN INPUTS REQUIRED TO FACILITATE biochemical, medicinal and pharmaceutical resources?

Frangipanis are often used to scent soaps and perfumes.

Humans have found many benefits from the use of chamomile such as acne treatments, relief from stomache cramping and migraines, and as a sleeping aid.

Human inputs required to facilitate the use of this service are similar to 'Genetic Resources for Cultivated Products'. Although the potential of our ecosystems to provide this service is not facilitated by human constructs (i.e. biological materials are provided by maintaining biodiversity) the identification of important biological material for human benefits and the direct use of these resources are facilitated by human-made constructs such as research laboratories, analysis equipment, storage facilities, museums, herbariums, grow-out programs, field trials and green houses.

Genetic technologies may be used in developing pharmaceuticals and medicines (e.g. vaccines and antibiotics). Genetic resources control how an organism adapts to its environment. The key to gene technology is firstly how to manipulate the genetic resources of organisms to enable them to live in certain environments, to produce particular substances useful to humans.


Are there any barriers to people receiving this ecosystem service and its benefits?

Barriers to accessing or receiving this ecosystem service are similar to 'Genetic Resources for Cultivated Products'. The use of native biological material sourced from State land and Queensland waters are governed by the Biodiscovery Act 2004 (Qld). Those undertaking biodiscovery activities are restricted to collecting minimal quantities of biological material. This is to ensure that biodiscovery activities are environmentally sustainable. Regulatory frameworks governing genetically modified organisms in Queensland may limit access to these resources. Other limiting factors to receiving this ecosystem service  are the costs involved in accessing the resource and/or identifying the particular resource. Future losses of biodiversity will provide barriers to future generations receiving this service.

This ecosystem service provides many benefits that contribute both directly and indirectly to the well-being of the SEQ community. The Constituents of Well-being this ecosystem service contributes to are presented in Table 2 below. Further information on these constituents and how ecosystem services contribute to them can be obtained by clicking on the links in the table.


Table 2:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem services) Biochemicals, Medicines and Pharmaceuticals contribute to each constituent of well-being.

Well-being Category Constituent of Well-being 0
Physical Health            
Mental Health            
Secure and Continuous Supply of Services            
Security of Person            
Security of Health            
Secure Access to Services            
Security of Property            
Good Social Relations
Family Cohesion            
Community and Social Cohesion            
Freedom of Choice and Action
Social and Economic Freedom            
Self Actualisation            


HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE ARE DEGRADING, MAINTAINING OR IMPROVING biochemical, medicinal and pharmaceutical resources?


When eaten, citrus fruits such lemons and oranges are natural sources of Vitamin C but the essence can also be used as indoor room deodorisers.

Links to other publications and websites

Natural Medicines Database
Journal of Natural Medicines
Natural Therapy
Gene Technology Regulator
Biodiscovery Act 2004
Collecting Biological Native Resources

Possible indicators for this service are similar to 'Genetic Resources for Cultivated products'. Indicators could include the number of permits issued for the collection of genetic resources, the number of patent applications and products based on genetic resources sourced from SEQ.  The difficulty using patent applications as a measure is that applications do not require disclosure of the source of the natural product. 

The number and location of pre-clinical and clinical trials of naturally sourced products could also serve as an indicator. Monitoring natural habitats will disclose whether resources are being collected sustainably. Human and animal research ethics committees responsible for approval of research projects would also monitor the use of biological materials in research. 


How is this ecosystem service currently managed in SEQ?

Management of this service is similar to 'Genetic Resources for Cultivated Products'. Regulatory frameworks governing genetically modified organisms aim to protect the health and safety of Queensland and its environment by identifying risks posed by or as a result of gene technology; and by managing those risks through regulating certain dealings with genetically modified organisms. Regulatory frameworks governing the use of the genetic resources are essential in preserving the sustainability of these resources for future generations.

The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator should be the first contact for people considering activities related to genetically modified organisms. The Gene Technology Act 2001 is Queensland’s legislative component of a national scheme that manages activities related to genetically modified organism. The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection should be the first contact for those interested in collecting native biological material from State Land or Queensland Waters.  The Biodiscovery Act 2004 (Qld) regulates the collection and use of native biological resources sourced from State land or Queensland Waters.