UBD Botanical Research Centre Puts Spotlight On Herbal Studies

On the sidelines of the first international symposium on "Ethnobotany in the Qur'an and Hadith - An Exploration", the officiation of the UBD Botanical Research Centre paves the way for increased research by herbalists especially with about 200 species of plants and trees which can be found in the five acres of tropical heath forest.

Brunei Darussalam's wealth of unique flora and fauna holds the potential to supply bioactive natural products of high commercial value and the Botanical Research Centre hopes to develop scientific information on endemic species, which might be beneficial for healthy food and beverage products as well as a source of complementary health supplement products.

The Botanical Research Centre has already identified a number of local plants, which based on traditional folklore, have been used to relieve common ailments such as fatigue, diarrhea, high cholesterol and sugar levels, minor cuts and bruises, either by consuming the plants or using them as ointments and creams. The centre hopes to indulge in more research to investigate further its full medicinal and health benefits.

In addition to researchers at the centre, the Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Research (IBER) and Faculty of Science (FOS) are looking to focus on some local food products: honey harvested from stingless bees, namely Heterotrigona itama and Geniotrigona thoracica, both species found only in the north of Borneo; tea brewed from Aidia borneensis – locally known as "Sambah bagangan", a plant species native to Brunei Darussalam and has traditionally been consumed by the locals for recovery from fatigue; and locally produced virgin coconut oil.

Preliminary studies on the antioxidant capacities of the local variety of these food products have shown promising results when compared to their international commercial counterparts. These products have the potential to compete in the international market by improvements in processing techniques and formulations leading to the expansion of the range of safe-to-consume products such as health supplements tablets and confectioneries as well as skincare products.

Further studies can be carried out on the biological activities of their extracts in different solvents. By doing so, we will have different types of bio-active compounds from the aforementioned materials to study their effectiveness against cancer cells, diabetes, diarrhea, cholesterol as well as toxicity tests. The active compounds in the extracts will then be evaluated and identified by chemical analysis.

This research is expected to provide information on their biological activities, catalogue compounds responsible for their activities and improve the existing formulation for future product development. In addition, this study will highlight and increase awareness of the value of Aidia borneensis, locally produced Virgin Coconut Oil and honey harvested from stingless bees. The research outcomes will be in the form of scientific publications and/or formulations of value-added products.

Ongoing preliminary physicochemical studies of the aforementioned samples have shown promising results when compared to their international commercial counterparts.

Taking into account the economic insight of local entrepreneurs, the Botanical Research Centre can help Brunei diversify its economy in line with the Brunei vision 2035. It can provide local entrepreneurs with scientific knowledge and know-how to improve the quality of their products and provide certification and scientific backing for their products to be introduced to the international market. Other notable benefits include capacity building of human resources, facilities and infrastructure; mentorship of early career academics, training of postgraduate students, research staff and relevant staff of other ministries.

Current research at the Botanical Research Centre includes plant identification, plant reproduction and in collaboration with UBD's Faculty of Science (FOS) researchers, the extraction and purification of biochemical compounds that can be developed for medicinal uses. "Our idea is to use the Centre as a pivotal UBD facility for botanical research in UBD," Curator for the Botanical Research Centre Dr Daniele Cicuzza said.

"At the same time we want to collaborate with international organisations in order to bring the garden into the Southeast Asia Botanic Gardens (SEABG) Network. This will bring more visibility to UBD and the research centre," he added. "The garden also intends to play an important role in the conservation of those plants which are in danger of extinction with an ex-situ conservation project. In the mid and long term, we aim to expand its accessibility to visitors. Furthermore, we aim to engage primary and secondary schools to visit the garden, and develop 'hands on' projects that allow the new generation closer contact with plants and be more aware of nature conservation."

The UBD Botanical Research Centre is currently developing a project focusing on the conservation of dipterocarp species in danger of extinction.

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