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Scientists identify new plant species endemic to Lanka

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By Ifham Nizam

Sri Lankan scientists have discovered a new species of Nelu, Strobilanthes medahinnensis (Acanthaceae) based on morphological and molecular data, from the Peak Wilderness Nature Reserve.

The species named “Strobilanthus medahinnensis Nilanthi”.

The research team includes Nilanthi Rajapaksa, Nuwan Jayawardena of the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Prof. Cyril Wijesundera of the Institute of Fundamental Studies, Kandy, Prof. Pradeepa Bandaranaike of the University of Peradeniya and Hiruna Samarakoon.

Nearly 450 species of Nelu spread around the world, most of which are found in tropical and subtropical Asia. With the discovery of the new species, there are about 33 species of Strobilanthus found in the natural environment in Sri Lanka, of which 27 species are endemic to Sri Lanka. Fourteen of these species are protected by the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO).

Lead Scientist, Nilanthi Rajapakse, first observed several of this species in September 2015 in the Medahinna area of the Peak Wilderness Nature Reserve.

Subsequently, the research team found that the height of the reserve ranged from about 1400 m to 1500 m. This new species bears a striking resemblance to the Strobilanthus anceps Nees. The flowers of both species are white, the leaves are oval, the tips of the inflorescences are bent backwards to protect the inflorescence, and the yellow glands are located on the underside of the leaves.

Chloroplasts used as DNA barcoding to distinguish the new plant species from the other closest plant species, S. anceps. Furthermore, it explains how these two plant species separated into two species 0.33 million years ago.

The team told The Island Nelu has medicinal value for many ailments. Allowing the growth of other flowering plants in the forest due to the death of flowering plants from time to time plays an important ecologically role. It also helps maintain soil moisture. Young plucked plants are a delicacy of deer. Many birds and bees come to drink the nectar of the harvested flowers. Nelu is the host plant of some butterfly species.

The species has the ability to be used as a mature woody twig. Dyes such as indigo, are produced from the leaf extract of most harvested species. Land use for economic crops, illegal use of land, deforestation due to development projects, invasive plant growth, collection for firewood, arson, and climate change threaten plants. Due to these reasons, about 21 species of Nelu that are endemic to Sri Lanka are threatened with extinction.

Although the population was not flowering at that time, this appeared distinct in leaf characters of its morphologically closest ally S. anceps Nees (1837: 312). “We conducted extensive plant explorations across the entire distribution range of Strobilanthes in Sri Lanka covering 21 administrative districts from January 2012 to September 2020. However, this new plant was not found in any other location except Medahinna and we visited Medahinna several times to study this population since 2015. Finally, on 29th June 2020, we could observe flowers in the population at Medahinna,” the team pointed out.

After a closer examination of the specimens and critical study of the literature, comparison of the specimens at National Herbarium, Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya (PDA), and online herbaria. “We found that it is different from all known species of Strobilanthes in the world. In addition to the preparations of distribution map, superlative photographs, and meticulously illustrated line drawings, the complete chloroplast genomes of this interesting material and S. anceps were also analysed. According to morphological and molecular evidence, it could not be assigned to any previously published species; hence it is described as a new species,” the team added.

The team thanked the Director General, Department of Wildlife Conservation, Sri Lanka (DWC) for the constant encouragement and facilities provided. They also thanked and Department of Forest Conservation, for permitting those to collect samples and the Agriculture Biotechnology Center, the University of Peradeniya for molecular analysis and the National Herbarium (PDA), the Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya for the assistance in specimen examination, to Rukmal Ratnayake for the line drawings and acknowledged the Ecosystem Conservation and Management Project (EACAMP) for financial support.



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Keheliya turns down request for abolishing price control on medicine

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Industry leader has sought court intervention

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella yesterday (17) said that in spite of difficulties caused by the foreign currency crisis price control on imported medicines couldn’t be done away with.

Abolition of price control on drugs would heap an enormous burden on the vast majority of people, Minister Rambukwella said.

Lawmaker Rambukwella said so when The Island sought his response to the Sri Lanka Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (SLCPI) requesting the government to do away with price control. Claiming that the grouping imported over 80 percent of medicines into the country, the SLCPI recently warned of possible collapse of the industry unless remedial measures were taken swiftly.

Minister Rambukwella said that recently he met an SLCPI delegation at their request to discuss issues at hand. “Of course, I understand the difficulties experienced by all sectors, including the pharmaceutical trade. However, price control as regards medicine cannot be done away with,” Minister Rambukwella said.

The SLCPI has pointed out to the Minister that at the moment medicines were the only commodity under price control in the local market. The Health Minister asserted that it wouldn’t be fair to compare the medicine with other commodities.

Minister Rambukwella said that regardless of constrains, the government was trying to ensure uninterrupted supply of medicine and it wouldn’t be fair to do at this juncture.

In a statement sent to the media SLCPI asserted: “There is no solution to this dilemma than removing the price control of medicines and implement a fair and equitable pricing mechanism which will link the price of medicines to the dollar, inflation and direct costs such as raw material, fuel and freight charges, which will then make importing and marketing of medicines viable. As difficult as it may sound, the authorities will have to choose between having medicines at a cost and not having medicines at all.”

The SLCPI has already sought the intervention of the courts to establish what the grouping called a transparent pricing mechanism outside government price control.

Recently, Minister Rambukwella, at a meeting also attended by State Minister Dr. Channa Jayasumana called for a report on the requirement of medicines over the next six months. The Health Ministry declared that there was no shortage of drugs whereas SLCPI claimed some drugs were in short supply and the situation could get worse.

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Central Expressway: Rs 3 mn raked in within 12 hours

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Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said yesterday that about three million rupees had been earned by way of toll within the first 12 hours of the opening of the second phase of the Central Expressway.

Rs 2,805,100.00 had been paid by the expressway users during the first 12 hours from 12 noon to midnight Sunday (16) after its opening by the President and the Prime Minister on Saturday (15).

The Minister said that during the first 12 hours of the period of toll collection, a total of 13,583 vehicles had traversed the most  scenic road stretch in the country between Mirigama and Kurunegala. No traffic accidents had been reported during the 12 hour period.

Minister Fernando said that the newly opened road had been allowed to be used by the public free of charge for 12 hours from midnight Saturday (15) to Sunday (16) noon.

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President to inaugurate second session of Ninth Parliament today

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by Saman Indrajith

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is scheduled to commence the second session of the Ninth Parliament today at 10 am with his third Presidential policy statement (formerly Throne Speech).

He made his first ‘Throne Speech’ on Jan 3, 2020, opening the Fourth Session of the Eighth Parliament and the second on Aug 20, 2020 to open the First Session of the Ninth Parliament.

Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Dasanayake said that MPs have been requested to arrive at the parliamentary complex at 9.25 am the latest.

The MPs, if accompanied by their spouses will alight from their vehicles at the Staff Entrance of the parliamentary building, while all other MPs are requested to drive up to the Members’ Entrance.

To facilitate orderly arrival, the MPs are requested that the Car Label provided them with be pasted on the inside top left-hand corner of the windscreen of their vehicles. On arrival at Parliament, Members’ vehicles would be directed by the Police to the appropriate Car Park.

Thereafter the MPs are requested to enter the lobbies of Parliament and to remain there until the Quorum Bells are rung.

President Rajapaksa is scheduled to arrive at the Main Steps of the Parliament Building at 9.40 a.m. and he would be received by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

The President will be escorted by them to the Parliament Building. Thereafter, the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament will escort the President to his Chambers.

At 9.55 a.m. the Quorum Bells will be rung for five minutes and all Members will take their seats in the Chamber of Parliament.

The President’s procession will leave for the Chamber of Parliament and will enter the Chamber at 10.00 am. On entering the Chamber the President’s arrival will be announced whereupon all Members will stand in their places until the President reaches the Chair and requests the Members to be seated.

Thereafter, the Proclamation proroguing the Parliament and Summoning the Meeting of Parliament will be read by the Secretary General of Parliament. Then, the President will address Parliament.

After his policy statement the President will adjourn the House until 1.00 p.m. on Wednesday (19).

Thereafter, the President will leave the Chamber escorted by the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

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