BIOTEC’s Collaboration with Bhutan on Insect Pathogenic Fungi

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Cordicep sinesis, aka Yartsa Goenbub.

Nestled in the Himalaya mountain range, Bhutan ranks among the most biodiverse countries in the world. However, back in 2000, the population of Cordyceps sinensis was threatened. Cordyceps sinensis, known in Bhutanese as Yartsa Goenbub, is a medicinal insect-pathogenic fungus which is highly prized by practitioners of Tibetan medicine, Chinese medicine and traditional herbal Folk medicines. Because of high market demand, Bhutan experienced the poaching and over-harvesting of Cordyceps sinensis, causing concerns in the Bhutanese government.
 
 
 
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Dr. Nigel Hywel-Jones (left) and Mr. Tshitila
In 2000, Dr. Nigel Hywel-Jones, BIOTEC mycologist specializing in insect-pathogenic fungi, was first contacted by the Renewable Natural Resources Research Centre – Yusipang, part of the Bhutanese Ministry of Agriculture, seeking his advice on the problem of illegal collection of Cordyceps sinensis in Bhutan, which would soon lead to the loss of this species from upland habitats. In Spring 2002, Nigel and Mr. Tshitila, Researcher of the Renewable Natural Resources Research Centre – Yusipang, made the first survey of Cordyceps sinensis in the Soe Valley north of Paro. After the survey, Nigel submitted the recommendations on how the problem should be addressed within Bhutan over the next few years. The first recommendation was that locals should be allowed to collect Cordyceps sinensis in a controlled manner as they would then be more likely to cooperate with rangers in stopping poaching. In 2004, His Majesty the Fourth King decreed that locals should be allowed to collect Cordyceps sinensis in a limited manner. Allowing locals to collect Cordyceps sinensis has made a significant improvement to their income.
 
 
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Two Bhutanese researchers were trained in BIOTEC Mycology and Phylogenetics Labs in September 2008.
 
The second recommendation was made to survey Cordyceps sinensis populations to provide recommendations to the government on sustainable collecting protocols, and also to conduct long-term research on Cordyceps sinensis. Nigel and Tshitila were able to obtain research funds from international agencies such as the European Community and the UK Government Darwin Initiative to support the survey and research work from 2004-2009. Since then, the team has surveyed sites at Nam Nha (western Bhutan), Bumthang (central Bhutan) and Bumderling (eastern Bhutan). Fixed research plots were established at Nam Nha in 2005 and these are monitored yearly. As a result, the Bhutanese Government is extending these research plots to Bumthang and Bumderling in 2010. This will provide a countrywide coverage for Cordyceps sinensis.

Through the research collaboration, BIOTEC has helped building up a research capability for Bhutan with various training activities. Over10 Bhutanese researchers have been trained in the research project in aspects of Cordyceps biology/ecology. Bhutanese researchers have attended several workshops and also a tailor-made training organized by BIOTEC.

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In August 2009, the Bhutanese Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) has entered in a Memorandum of Agreement with Bhutan Pharmaceuticals Private Limited (BPPL) to collaborate in a research program and to strengthen national capacity in the field of insect fungi. The collaboration will lead to the establishment of laboratories for inventorying, collection, isolation and documentation of Cordyceps and its relatives in Bhutan. Nigel has been invited to assist MoA and BPPL in establishing the laboratories and guide the research team in the initial phase. It is expected that this will further develop the link between BIOTEC and Bhutan.

 

Posted on 22 October 2009.

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