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Bioprospecting Done Right?
Alex Steffen, 15 Jul 04

The Convention on Biological Diversity that emerged from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit was designed to strike a balance between the need to protect biodiversity, the desire to find and use new genetic resources for industrial and pharmaceutical research and the hope of compensating native people for the genetic riches they've stewarded.

Unfortunately, it hasn't worked very well. Biopiracy has become a major problem, despite efforts to protect native patent rights through the documentation of prior art

Now, as Nature reports, there's a move afoot to create a new system which would make both prospecting and the defense of native genetic rights easier. And some projects employing this new appraoch are proving successful:

"Phyllis Coley, a plant ecologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, launched a bioprospecting project in Panama to look for potential drugs against the parasites that cause malaria, leishmaniasis and Chagas' disease. Today, the project has evolved into a network of six laboratories, employing ten senior scientists, nearly 60 technicians and training dozens of local students.

"From the start, Coley ensured that the project was deeply rooted in Panama. All its research is done there. Laboratories have been created, staff trained and more affordable assays developed to test plant samples for activity. Project managers are meticulous about transparency: each time a sample is to be transported out of the country, approval is sought from the Panama National Authority on the Environment."

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