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Green Medicine > Spotlight on Members > Marcello Pennacchio

Marcello Pennacchio at work.
Marcello Pennachio gives a talk at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Meet Marcello Pennacchio: From the Outback to the Prairie

Q: Describe your basic biographic information (where you live, where you grew up, what you do for a living, anything about you that helps people understand where you're "coming from").

A: I was born in a small provincial village on the Apennine Mountains of Central Italy, but grew up in Perth, Western Australia. I studied at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, where I obtained a BSc degree with first class honors in Biology and a PhD in ethnopharmacology. I was a tenured member of faculty at Curtin University from 1998 to 2004. In 2004, I was employed at the Institute for Plant Conservation at the Chicago Botanic Garden as a research scientist and co-manager of an intern program managed by my professional and domestic partner, Dr Lara V. Jefferson. We have two sons. I was formerly a sergeant in the Italian Alpine Army. My other interests include scuba diving and flying.

Q: How did you become interested in medicinal plants?

A: I have a PhD in ethnopharmacology from Curtin University of Technology in Perth, where I searched for novel cardioactive agents from plants traditionally used by Indigenous Australians. As a result of that work, I discovered six new compounds useful to the heart. I also discovered the mechanism of action of one of those six compounds (acteoside, syn. verbascoside, kusaginin). I have worked with medicinal plants ever since, but have also conducted research on plant-derived smoke as a cue to seed germination, allelopathy and green-blooded lizards! Along with Dr Jefferson and Dr Kayri Havens, we have written a book on the ethnobotany, ecology and conservation issues pertaining to plants whose smoke was historically used for a variety of purposes throughout the world. Approximately 2000 plant species are listed. The book is due to be published some time in 2007.

Q: Please choose the MPWG strategy element you are most aligned with and describe how you help fulfill this part of the MPWGs mission.

Elements of MPWG Strategy:

a. Generate and share information regarding species of medicinal and economic importance and conservation concern
b. Promote appropriate conservation measures for native medicinal plants
c. Promote sustainable production of native medicinal plant products
d. Increase participation in native medicinal plant conservation
e. Encourage active participation by Tribes and other holders of traditional ecological knowledge pertaining to native medicinal plants
f. Generate financial support for native medicinal plant conservation projects

A: My colleagues Dr Jefferson, Dr Kayri Havens and I are working to generate and share information regarding species of medicinal and economic importance and conservation concern. We are currently determining the conservation status of all medicinal plants used in North America. We hope to understand why so many are threatened and endangered. We are also looking at those that are invasive.

Q: What are your future aspirations or concerns with regard to medicinal plants?

A: I hope to keep documenting uses for medicinal plants around the world, as well as continue searching for novel medicinal or biologically active compounds. It is my hope that work of this nature will lead to new pharmaceutical agents. I also firmly believe that the plants and knowledge of their medicinal uses should be conserved and that a significant share of any royalties that arise from the commercialization of any natural products should go back to those people who originally provided information on the plants. I hope to play a significant role in these areas.

Selected web bibliography for Marcello:

Marcello's Contact Information:

Address: Chicago Botanic Garden,
1000 Lake Cook Road,
Glencoe, IL 60022 USA
Phone: (847) 835-8377


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Last Updated: 22-Mar-2007