Paul A. Cox, an American ethnobotanist, delivered Tuesday’s forum address on campus. He introduced the concept that Earth is a large curiosity cabinet, in which there are many wonders to be discovered and utilized as medical remedies and that as stewards of the earth and its creations, we should show reverence toward it.
“It is my sincere hope that as we explore Nature’s Curiosity Cabinet, we can demonstrate reverence for the earth and for the Creator. If you love the Artist, please don’t slash His painting.”
Cox stated that members of the Church have a responsibility to be stewards of the earth and to protect God's creation. He encouraged students to show reverence for the earth by doing three things: spending time in nature and appreciating it, supporting National Parks and standing against climate change by caring for a tree or house plant.
Cox promised his audience that as they actively pursued the conservation of the earth they would help discover new medicine, prevent serious disease and reduce the impact that climate change will have.
Devoting his life to the study of plants and their practical uses, Cox has discovered possible cures to problems including hepatitis, Alzheimer's and global warming. He emphasized the need for these natural remedies to be protected and preserved.
“By exploring Nature’s Curiosity Cabinet, we can not only increase our sense of wonder of the earth but also discover truths that can help solve some of the world’s most serious problems.”
One of the first things discovered in his own version of Nature's Curiosity Cabinet are stromatolites. Defining these as microorganisms produced by cyanobacteria, Cox explained that they were one of the first forms of life on earth and have played a crucial part in the production of oxygen gas.
In the past, the only known existing stromatolites were in Australia and the Bahamas. Cox was pleased to share that due to the unfortunate drought in Utah, stromatolites have been discovered in BYU’s own backyard.
“As the surface of the Great Salt Lake has receded, it has revealed its own stunning secret, but this one is far more beautiful than Lake Mead. It turns out that the turbid waters of the Great Salt Lake have long concealed living stromatolites.”
Another discovery he shared is the use of L-Serine to ward off the negative impact of BMAA exposure. Cox explained that in many places people are contaminated by a neurotoxin called BMAA, often caused by agricultural runoff and poorly treated sewage flowing into bodies of water. Cox stated that BMAA has been found to significantly increase the chance that an individual develops ALS, and often Alzheimer's disease.
“We discovered that protein misfolding induced by BMAA can be blocked by the naturally-occurring amino acid L-serine, which is abundant in soybeans, sweet potatoes and many species of marine algae.”
Cox affectionately shared his experience discovering prostratin, a drug found in the bark of the trees in the Soamoan rainforest. This bark had the potential to treat hepatitis and potentially HIV/AIDS.
To his dismay, Cox realized soon after this discovery that they had to face a serious challenge: a logging company that had offered the Samoan village a total of $85,000 to use the trees for commercial purposes. The village needed this money in order to construct an elementary school, otherwise the government would pull the teachers out of the village.
Counseling the chiefs of the village, Cox offered to raise that amount of money for the village in order to save the rainforest and build an elementary school.
“Soon we started receiving requests from other villages who were being forced to choose between protecting their rain forests and building schools for their children. [We] created a non- profit organization, Seacology. Based on generous contributions from people throughout the world, Seacology builds schools, medical clinics, solar electrification schemes, and water supplies in small island villages in return for the villagers covenanting to protect their rain forests, coral reefs, and other precious resources.”