Thanks to Facebook, New Plant Discovered – May Help With Alzheimer’s

A clump of wild snowdrop plants with white droopy blooms attached to bright green vegetation

Not all plants are disappearing. There were over 100 new plant discoveries in 2020.

One of those discoveries was a new species of the medicinal snowdrop plant, Galanthus bursanus – and Facebook was the catalyst.

Way the story goes, this new snowdrop plant from northwest Turkey was discovered on Facebook when Turkish pediatrician, Dr. Y Konca, uploaded her holiday photos. That’s when Ukrainian researcher, Dr. Dimitri Zubov, spotted the snowdrop plant photos on Facebook and determined there was something different about these snowdrops from the others he had seen.

Zubov contacted Konca and they both returned to northwest Turkey to find the location in the photo. Consequently, they collected a sample of the plant and contacted a snowdrop specialist by the name of Aaron Davis.

Galanthus, or snowdrop, is a small genus of approximately 20 species of bulbous perennial herbaceous plants in the family Amaryllidaceae. The plants have two linear leaves and a single small white drooping bell-shaped flower with six petal-like tepals in two circles. The smaller inner petals have green markings.

In many parts of Europe, the snowdrop is the first blooming bulb of the year and signifies the end of winter and beginning of spring.

Turns out Zubov’s intuition was correct. The snowdrop plants in Konca’s Facebook photos were indeed an unidentified species.

The importance of this discovery has yet to be determined as research is ongoing to understand the chemical composition of this new species of snowdrop as well as any potential new medicinal properties.

Snowdrops and other plants from the Amaryllidaceae family have a naturally occurring substance in them called galantamine. This is sold as a medication to help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease under the name of Reminyl.

Galantamine was first used in Eastern Europe in the 1950s to treat memory problems but it wasn’t until 2010 that it became widely used in the UK when the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) authorized its use.

Galantamine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2001. However, apparently the Reminyl brand name has been discontinued in the U.S.

The hope is that Galanthus bursanus will prove to be even more useful as a treatment for Alzheimer’s and other neurocognitive disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, HIV Infection, Huntington’s Disease and traumatic brain injury.

Unfortunately, the new snowdrop plant has already been assessed as critically endangered due to threats from illegal collecting, marble quarrying, climate change and expansion of agricultural land.