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Challenges in developing medicinal plant databases for sharing ethnopharmacological knowledge

Ningthoujam, Sanjoy Singh, Talukdar, Anupam Das, Potsangbam, Kumar Singh, Choudhury, Manabendra Dutta
Journal of ethnopharmacology 2012 v.141 no.1 pp. 9-32
Internet, computer software, databases, information exchange, medicinal plants, researchers, surveys, traditional medicine
ETHNOPHARMACOLOGICAL RELEVANCE: Major research contributions in ethnopharmacology have generated vast amount of data associated with medicinal plants. Computerized databases facilitate data management and analysis making coherent information available to researchers, planners and other users. Web-based databases also facilitate knowledge transmission and feed the circle of information exchange between the ethnopharmacological studies and public audience. However, despite the development of many medicinal plant databases, a lack of uniformity is still discernible. Therefore, it calls for defining a common standard to achieve the common objectives of ethnopharmacology. AIM OF THE STUDY: The aim of the study is to review the diversity of approaches in storing ethnopharmacological information in databases and to provide some minimal standards for these databases. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Survey for articles on medicinal plant databases was done on the Internet by using selective keywords. Grey literatures and printed materials were also searched for information. Listed resources were critically analyzed for their approaches in content type, focus area and software technology. RESULTS: Necessity for rapid incorporation of traditional knowledge by compiling primary data has been felt. While citation collection is common approach for information compilation, it could not fully assimilate local literatures which reflect traditional knowledge. Need for defining standards for systematic evaluation, checking quality and authenticity of the data is felt. Databases focussing on thematic areas, viz., traditional medicine system, regional aspect, disease and phytochemical information are analyzed. Issues pertaining to data standard, data linking and unique identification need to be addressed in addition to general issues like lack of update and sustainability. In the background of the present study, suggestions have been made on some minimum standards for development of medicinal plant database. CONCLUSION: In spite of variations in approaches, existence of many overlapping features indicates redundancy of resources and efforts. As the development of global data in a single database may not be possible in view of the culture-specific differences, efforts can be given to specific regional areas. Existing scenario calls for collaborative approach for defining a common standard in medicinal plant database for knowledge sharing and scientific advancement.