Rediscovery of medicinal plant usage in the “Age of Exploration”: From cultural historical heritage to innovative pharmaceuticals

REA:Life wants to unveil the processes that have shaped the social and cultural development of medicine and identify bioactive compounds in historical medicinal plants with cutting edge methods.


REA:Life is an interdisciplinary natural and cultural sciences project that traces the prevalence of disease, and the history of societies’ increasing awareness of epidemiological disease during the Age of Exploration (15th to 18th century) and beyond.

The main aim is the retrieval of lost medicinal knowledge, identifying novel compounds for bioactivity screening with the latest cutting edge methods in analytical pharmacology, immunological assays and microbiome metagenomics.

The increasing awareness of causative disease agents resulted in the establishment of preventive infrastructure and mitigative measures such as quarantine islands and medical treatment all over Europe, including Norway.

Primary objectives

To unveil the processes that have shaped the social and cultural development of medicine in an ethnopharmacological and archaeogenomic framework using a wide range of multidisciplinary tools and approaches.

To discover the type of plants that were used to treat humans at historical hotspot locations.

To connect a novel understanding of historical use of medicinal plants to empirical, objective immunopharmacological responses by measuring their direct effect on the microbiome and immune system and combine historical and ethnopharmacological records with immunopharmacological data to identify potential new pharmaceutical products.

Secondary objective

To train a new generation of interdisciplinary scholars that is capable of bridging the gap between entrenched disciplines and reach out to create truly innovative partnerships.