Cancer Cure or Conservation
A Question of Health for Humans and the Ecosystem
Mathematics, Science and Health Careers
Manchester Community College
Illinois State University
This case is based on the controversy that surrounded harvesting of the Pacific yew from 1989 to 1997 to develop paclitaxel (Taxol), a revolutionary anti-cancer drug. The case was designed to expose students to basic conservation biology concepts by examining competing needs among scientists and other stakeholders in a real-life science-and-society scenario. Developed for a undergraduate introductory biology course for non-majors, the case could also be used in an environmental science course or in a course on the impact of science and technology on society.
- To learn about the risks and benefits of bio-prospecting.
- To learn about ethnobotany and its importance to the drug industry.
- To examine the direct and indirect benefits of T. brevifolia in the Pacific Northwest ecosystem.
- To learn about the anti-cancer drug Taxol and the controversy surrounding its production.
- To explore the complexity of scientific work and its interactions with public policy.
- To gain a better appreciation of the complexities involved in land use decisions.
KeywordsTaxol; paclitaxel; Taxus brevifolia; T. brevifolia; anti-cancer drug; bioprospecting; bio-prospecting; drug development; Pacific Northwest ecosystem; ethnobotany; Pacific Yew Act of 1992; Quinault
Educational LevelHigh school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Type MethodsDilemma/Decision, Discussion
Subject HeadingsEnvironmental Science Botany / Plant Science Biology (General) Natural Resource Management
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