Bioprospecting drugs from the deep

IT TOOK a moment for John Watson to realise that he had lost something. The elder from the Jarlmadangah Burru Aboriginal Community in The Kimberley was hunting crocodiles with his brother when his quarry bit back, taking half his finger.

“We couldn’t catch him but he caught me,” Mr Watson says. 

“I didn’t know he taken it… I see the water is red and it was my blood. Then when I pulled it out of the water it was painful.”

A long way from home, Mr Watson pulled the bark off a marjarla tree, an Aboriginal remedy that has long been used to numb pain, chewed it up and spat it on the open wound, which healed nicely.

His experience led to a collaboration between the community and Griffith University, Queensland, which identified the active compounds and extracted two painkillers from the bark. 

The collaboration is looking to further develop topical creams and pain-killing drugs.