Himachal scientists seek grant from Centre to develop anti-Covid drug from seabuckthorn berry

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By: Express News Service | Shimla | Published: June 11, 2020 8:55:09 pm

Himachal Scientists from Himachal Pradesh have sought grants from the Centre to study the antiviral activity of the chharma berry. (File Photo)

Following reports of the effectiveness of a wild berry against the novel coronavirus, scientists from Himachal Pradesh have sought grants from the Centre to study the antiviral activity of the berry, which grows in high-altitude, cold deserts of the Himalayas.

Seabuckthorn, locally known as chharma, is a wild shrub which grows naturally in Lahaul and Spiti and parts of Kinnaur. It is known for its immunity-boosting and medicinal properties, said Dr Virendra Singh, a professor at the agricultural university in Palampur and general secretary of the Seabuckthorn Association of India.

According to the Korea Biomedical Review, scientists at the Ewha Womans University Medical Center, South Korea, have claimed that seabuckthorn berry’s lactic acid bacteria can check the spread of the coronavirus by inhibiting the activation of purine, the energy source required by the virus for its mutation.

Singh said that in the last three decades, numerous studies on the fruit oil and leaf extracts of the plant done in Finland, Russia, India and China have proven its strong anti-viral properties. Around 15,200 hectares in Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh are covered by the plant, producing about 20,800 tonnes of berries, he said.

“But only 800 tonnes of the plant are actually collected by people, as access to these remote, wild shrubs is not easy. The central as well as the state governments have shown commitment in the past to harness the potential of this plant and generate livelihood opportunities in these areas. In 2007, states were advised by the Centre to carry out massive afforestation of seabuckthorn using the Compensatory Afforestation Fund, and last year, the state forest department prepared a roadmap for the scheme after consultation with experts and farmers. However, it’s yet to take off,” he said.

The pandemic has offered a fresh opportunity, and scientists from IIT Mandi, CSK HP Agriculture University and five other research institutes have sought Rs 7.5 crore from the Union ministry of AYUSH to develop an anti-Covid drug from the berry.

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