Biological Diversity

A round of bio-piracy for all.


Latha Jishnu’s article in the Business Standard brings to our attention that the problem of bio-piracy is ubiquitous and cannot be said to be one afflicting developing countries alone. She writes about the story of “Taqs” or Thermus Aquaticus a bacterium isolated by two scientists in 1966. Twenty years Kary Mullis a researcher for the Cetus Corporation went on to take an enzyme from Taqs and derive from it the Nobel Prize winning process called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) which hastens the replication of DNA and is of utility in industrial and medical processes.

However, the final twist to this tale is a thought provoking one – a sample of Taqs was acquired by the Cetus Corporation for $35 and the patent for the PCR process was sold to Roche for $300 million. Annual sales of PCR equipment are approximately $200 million and growing. Oh and the Yellowstone National Park got nothing.

The Yellowstone National Park boasts of bio-reserves amounting to approximately 60% of the world’s geo-thermal features. Having decided that they deserved monetary compensation for the benefits that scientists have derived from these resources in the mid – 90s the Park started a pilot benefit sharing agreement allowing it to secure montary gains from any research spin-off while promoting conservation.

It used the Cooperative Research and Development Agreements or CRADAs that enabled federal laboratories in the US to get money from private companies for use of their resources. A pathbreaking CRADA was signed in 1977 with Diversa Corporation …
Several lawsuits were filed against the Diversa pact, some of which forced the company to significantly increase the payments to Yellowstone and to alter the wording of the agreements… Critics say they are against the “selling off public resources…the product is something that belongs to the people of this nation” and there should be no commercial deals over public property.

Personally being allowed a share of the monetary benefits and using the same for purposes of conservation or for maintenance of the Park seems to be a valuable sergvice for the people of anation. I don’t entirely agree with the thought that these benefit sharing agreements amount to selling public property as long as they are not used to exploit or plunder the Park.

When reading this article I was reminded of Shamnad’s post on Arogyapacha where one can draw numerous parallels between the Park and TGBRI’s struggle with the popularity of the Jeevani drug.

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