Neotropico to harness South American biodiversity for nutraceuticals

By Clarisse Douaud

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: South america, North america

In an effort to bridge the gap between the ample nutraceutical
potential of biodiversity in South America and research and
industry in North America, Argentine consultancy Neotropico has
opened an office in Los Angeles.

While South American rainforests are said to be home to approximately one third of the world's plant species, these play a surprisingly small role in the nutraceutical industry in North America and Europe. Neotropica says this is in part due to South America's isolation from these markets, as well as the lack of an institutional research tradition on the continent for looking further into the potential of the endless selection of plants about which so little is known. "There's a strong Ayurvedic tradition in India, traditional medicine in China and herbal medicine in Europe, but South America is a little further away from a physical, scientific or geographic standpoint,"​ Neotropico CEO and founder Cristian Desmarchelier told NutraIngredients-USA. Ideally, said Desmarchelier, companies in South America should act as links to biodiversity in the region. Up until now, he said, the same South American plants have appeared again and again on retail shelves - such as cat's claw, guarana, yerba mate, or acai. Desmarchelier and his colleagues are now looking to boost the profile of the biodiversity South America is so famous for, yet relatively untapped. As such, after a decade of working together on different projects, the group of scientists joined together in 2005 under the Neotropico umbrella, with headquarters in Buenos Aires. First among the firm's goals is to compile more pharmacological and scientific information on plants in the region, and to develop standardized extracts. In addition, Neotropico wants to funnel more research proposals from North America into South America. "There has to be collaborative work between the North and the South,"​ said Desmarchelier. Neotropico recently published a botanical handbook with 120 monographs of plants from the region and is finalizing an extended monograph on yerba mate, set to be published in 2008 and available in the US. The drive for both North American research institutions and food ingredient manufacturers to get on board should in theory be strong as there is potential for them to be involved in discoveries that could then lead to novel products. "We think that there is a very good potential to develop new products,"​ said Desmarchelier. Neotropico has been involved in projects at grassroots levels in South America - namely in Argentina, Peru and Brazil. For instance, the group has been consulting on a project in the central Peruvian Amazon region since 2005. The purpose of this project is to develop the re-incorporation of medicinal plants of proven efficacy into the official primary health care system. From a commercial standpoint, using plant species from South America can be dicey territory for foreign companies if they do not take into consideration local laws or the rights of communities. "It's a very delicate issue, and I think you have to look at each specific case,"​ said Desmarchelier.

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