“Witchdoctors and Biotechnology” is the subject of the annual Lowell Lecture, which will be delivered this year by ethnobiologist Mark Plotkin. The talk will take place on Friday, April 7, at 8 p.m. in Science Center C. Illustrated with slides, the lecture will explore the extraordinary advances in technology during the past decade that have led to a revolution in the way we are able to use Mother Nature as a new source of therapeutic compounds.

According to Plotkin, we can now find, analyze, and manipulate compounds as never before. Numerous compounds worth investigating further to see whether they can be turned into commercial pharmaceutical products are now in the pharmacy or in the pipeline – for everything from cancer to intractable pain and based on everything from snake venom to leech saliva. This renaissance in natural product pharmaceutical development where the medicine man meets the microchip offers great potential that is already being realized.

Plotkin is currently executive director of The Amazon Conservation Team in Washington, D.C., an organization he founded with his wife, Liliana, a conservationist and the chief operating officer. The organization is dedicated to the preservation of the biological and cultural integrity of the Amazon rainforest. During the past 25 years Plotkin has been on numerous expeditions to the Amazon in an attempt to acquire and preserve the knowledge of the indigenous shamans (the tribal “medicine men” who know the curative powers of the Amazon’s rainforest) and their plants.

Plotkin is the author of Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice. This children’s book became the basis for Amazon, a documentary that was nominated for an Academy Award in 1998 and will be the subject of a Public Broadcasting System Reading Rainbow special in May. His new book, Medicine Quest: In Search of Nature’s Healing Secrets, will be published in early April. An excerpt of this book will appear in Time magazine next month. Plotkin wi ll sign copies of his book after the lecture.

Plotkin is the recipient of a Harvard Extension School undergraduate degree, an A.L.B. in 1979. In 1974, after a semester at the University of Pennsylvania, Plotkin enrolled in an evening class at the Extension School, Biology 104 Plants and Human Affairs, taught by Harvard Professor Richard Evans Schultes, a founding father of the field of ethnobotany. The course proved to be a defining moment for Plotkin as he became a protégé of Professor Schultes and devoted himself to the field.

He graduated with honors from the Extension School and received a scholarship to Yale University, which prepared him for his doctoral studies at Tufts University.

Devoted to major issues of our time, the Lowell Lecture is sponsored jointly by the Harvard University Extension School and the Lowell Institute of Boston as a public service event for the community. The Lowell Lecture is free and open to the public. For further information call the Extension School at (617)495-2924.