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Trumpet all Nobel Laureates

The awarding of a Nobel Prize for Medicine to a Chinese research doctor, Tu Youyou, has captured the imagination of the country and in some ways turned her into of a cult hero.

The home she used to live in has sky-rocketed in value and the high school she attended over 50 years ago has become a centre of attention.

While there were rumblings that Tu had hogged the limelight a bit and had not given due credit to her research team, she has been particular about mentioning her co-workers first.

But prescinding from the hype, Tu has been involved in highly important work in developing an anti-malaria drug called artemisinin and, maybe more significantly, the development of the drug is based on Chinese herbal medicine, using a natural ingredient found in nature.

Whether the drug in fact should be credited in this manner has been a point of debate, but exploring and developing any medicine with basic components found in nature is a highly important work.

While limelight burns out, such a breakthrough in the development of natural medicine does not. But it does beg a further question; if nature can provide such important ingredients, shouldn’t the huge variety of species and life forms that exist around the world have more care lavished on them?

Environmentalists have for decades been pointing out that the myriad species that have not been the subject of research, or even isolated as yet, could well reveal solutions to many everyday illnesses that plague all living things, as well as components that could be constructively used in industry.

They also point out that the wholesale destruction of natural environments in the pursuit of economic gain, state security or other purposes often results in the elimination of species about which little or nothing is known.

But when what is not known or understood is destroyed, unknown possibilities go with it and opportunities of new discovery and knowledge go as well.

If Tu’s discovery is to be taken seriously, not only the herbs of traditional medicine must be protected, but also the microcosms, insect life and growth of unique natural environments as well, to ensure that the full range of the magic of God’s creation remains available for creative use.

Tu is the ninth Han Chinese citizen to be awarded a Nobel Prize since 1957. They have been in the areas of physics, medicine and chemistry, with one for literature and the most controversial of all, peace.

In 2010, Liu Xiaobo, one of the authors of Charter 08, a document on human rights, was awarded a Nobel Prize for Peace. At the time China did not embrace the prestige of the award and, although Liu’s fame across the world stage was promoted, he did not become a celebrity on the mainland.

Although not an ethnic Chinese, the recipient of the 1989 Nobel Prize for Peace was the Dalai Lama. He is a Chinese national by virtue of being in Tibet when it was annexed by Beijing. He has never renounced this—nor have the Chinese authorities.

The Nobel Prize seeks to enhance life and should be acclaimed by cherishing and nurturing the total environment embracing the inherent values that the award sets out to honour. JiM