Meet the chemist that discovered a rainforest plant that helps dogs
At 84 years old, Dr. Tony Durst is an accomplished individual.
Not only has he been a professor for 55 years, but he is also credited with making a scientific discovery so monumental, it is now catching the eyes of dog owners and the veterinary community everywhere.
A fascinating plant-based blend that relies upon extracts from a little-known plant, called Souroubea sympetala that grows at the edge of rain forests in the Eastern part of Costa Rica, along with Platanus Spp., more commonly known as the North American Sycamore Tree.
Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Tony Durst. We discussed his incredible life, upbringing, and experiences as both a refugee and researcher, and also got to learn about the impact Souroubea is having on pets.
So, without further ado…
Introducing, Dr. Tony Durst.
Romania to Canada: How a Tumultuous Past Shaped Dr. Durst’s Academic Future
Originally from Romania, Tony was born in peasant village. The same village in fact that his ancestors had lived in since the 1710’s – nearly 240 years! They had all been farmers.
However, towards the end of WWII, because the family lived on the Hungarian border, Dr. Durst , his mother and her parents were advised to become refugees as the Russian front approached. Leaving everything behind (except what the horses and a covered wagon could carry) they headed westward and reached Southern Germany eight months later, where his mother and grandfather began work as farm laborers. They were re-united with his father in 1946.
“I started grade one as a refugee child in Austria,” Dr. Durst recalls.
Then, in1949, the family was able to immigrate to Canada. Southern Ontario would become “home.”
Despite being uprooted and relocated as a young child, these challenges didn’t cause Dr. Durst to waver in his curiosity and quest for knowledge. Quite the opposite.
“I did very well in high school,” he shares. “My parents really wanted me to be a farmer because that was their background. But eventually, they allowed me to go to university in London, Ontario.”
From that point, he went on to earn an undergraduate degree in chemistry and physics and his Ph.D. in Chemistry. Next up was a Canadian National Research Council-NATO Postdoctoral Fellowship in Munich Germany followed by an appointment as a Harvard University Junior Fellow where he was fortunate enough to work with EJ Corey, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1990.
In 1964, he married the love of his life, Mary, and he started a job at the University of Ottawa in 1967. “And I'm still here,” Dr. Tony says with a smile. “That's 55 years now.”
Without a doubt, those challenging experiences, coupled with a love of learning, are partly responsible for setting Dr. Durst on his life’s trajectory resulting in researching natural products and medicinal plants.
What Inspired Dr. Durst to Become a Researcher?
Some children dream of becoming an astronaut.
Others know right away they want to be a veterinarian when they grow up, maybe because they adore animals or see their mom and dad working in similar professions.
For Dr. Durst, inspiration struck differently.
“On the farm, there were no scientists,” he explains. “I learned to work with my hands. But it turned out I was pretty good academically, especially in subjects such as math, science, geography, and history.”
Even though he missed many weeks of school to help with planting and harvest (which came with the territory of growing up on a farm) Tony took every academic opportunity offered to him. He wasn’t afraid to work hard and put in a ton of effort if it meant opening new doors.
Even today, at 84 years old…he’s still carrying out research at the University of Ottawa partly in the field of natural products from Costa Rica. His wife, Mary, who retired from a career in education supports him, including his work in Costa Rica.
And we sure are happy about that, because it means pet parents can benefit from his vast knowledge about the Souroubea family of plants.
The Key to Souroubea’s Success? Relationships with the People of Costa Rica
For Dr. Tony Durst, relationships are at the heart of Souroubea story. It started more than twenty years ago as a collaborative project involving the best botanists, Luis Poveda and Pablo Sanchez from the Universdad Nacional in Costa Rica, John Arnason a biologist and Zul Merali, a psychologist both also professors at the University of Ottawa and Prof. Durst as the chemist. Together they discovered the anti-anxiety properties present in the Souroubea sympatela plant. After inventing the mixture of Souroubea plant material and bark shed naturally by the North American sycamore tree that contained the same active ingredient, the group started a company to produce a product designed to help reduce anxiety in dogs due to a variety of reasons.
“This comes out of Costa Rica,” he concludes. “Therefore, Costa Rica should benefit just as much as anyone.” To date, Costa Rican academic colleagues are part owners (23%) of the company. Importantly, they have teamed with a female-led farming Co-Op in on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica involving twenty-three families who maintain a plantation allowing the company able to sustainably source Souroubea plant material without depleting its occurrence in the rainforest, while simultaneously providing economic opportunities for the Co-Op.
With so much to offer, we are delighted to bring information about these powerful botanicals to our readers, thanks to the generous and lifelong knowledge of Dr. Tony Durst. Brave Paws Anxiety and Stress Support Chewables for Dogs is available at mybravepaws.com.