Case valuable genetic and biochemical resources from nature.
Case studies on Bio piracy Introduction “All humans have equal rights to the bounties of nature” – Vandana Shiva What is Biopiracy? To understand the concept of Biopiracy, one needs to understand the meaning of Bioprospecting. According to the Oxford Dictionary, bioprospecting can be defined as, “the search for plant and animal species from which medicinal drugs and other commercially valuable compounds can be obtained.” The term, ‘Bioprospecting’ has been originated in the late 1990s from the phrase, ‘biodiversity prospective’. The World Health Organisation resource1 defines bioprospecting as, “Bioprospecting can be defined as the systematic search for and development of new sources of chemical compounds, genes, micro-organisms, macro-organisms, and other valuable products from nature. It entails the search for economically valuable genetic and biochemical resources from nature. So, in brief, bioprospecting means looking for ways to commercialize biodiversity.”2 All we have yet discovered is but a trifle in comparison with what lies hid in the great treasury of nature. -Antonie van Leewenhoek (1680) Man, since his inception has been relying on the fruits of nature to fulfil his needs for food, clothing, healing and shelter. But in the modern world today, the needs have become more in number and complexities. From simple nutrients extraction to inspiration for antibacterial surfaces inspired from shark skins, nature through its biodiversity has been helping mankind to realise full potential. Bioprospecting, thus, simply means the identification, exploration, investigation, examination, utilization, manipulation, combination and finally, the commercialization of biological resources. It is carried out by various industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, engineering, biomining, nanotechnology amongst innumerable others. Bioprospecting may be used for ingredients, constituents, recipes, directions, inspirations, designs, and formulae. To get it into perspective, imagine a life without penicillin; a group of antibiotics which help fight against bacterial infections to save lives. Discovered by Alexander Fleming, this breakthrough drug has revolutionized the pharmaceutical industry. It can be deduced that penicillin is a boon of bioprospecting. Aspirin has been extracted from the White Willow Tree. Morphine has been obtained from Opium Poppy. Extremophiles are used for extracting enzymes for the preservation of various products. Ayurveda from India is being used all around the world for its help in well-being and healing properties. To further distinguish, bioprospecting relates to only living beings; from virus to plants to mammals. Whereas, ‘Exploitation of non-living things’ relates to the commercialized use of resources such as rocks, thermal energy, solar energy, aerial energy, etcetera. Today, in the practical world, bioprospecting mainly relates to the extraction of genetic, medicinal and biochemical properties for products to be used commercially. It has emerged immensely since the 1980s due to the advancements in molecular technologies, making it easier for extraction of atomic and molecular properties. One of the best examples of bioprospecting is Traditional Knowledge. Indigenous communities interact with the environment, accumulating, noting and gathering the benefits from the biological diversity for various uses which remains extensively communal. According to World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), ‘Traditional knowledge (TK) is knowledge, know-how, skills and practices that are developed, sustained and passed on from generation to generation within a community, often forming part of its cultural or spiritual identity.’3 Gathered through empirical observations and reciprocal actions in the environment, this knowledge has helped communities of indigenous nature for hundreds of years to not only survive, but also live lives with a certain standard of quality. Traditional Knowledge is passed over generations either orally, in writings, absorbing practiced skills or as protected treasures. Examples of Traditional Knowledge. South Africa: The San community uses a species of Hoodia for appetite suppressant. Good for natural weight loss. India: A dedicated science known as ‘Ayurveda’ (Ayur=Life; Veda=Knowledge) has been providing medicinal, preventive and well-being knowledge for over 3000 years using the advantageous properties of various biodiversity. Turmeric or Haldi is used as a natural wound healer. Neem leaves are used for their antiseptic and antifungal properties. Indian Black Berry or Jamun extracts are used for anti-diabetic medicines. Peru: The Maca plant has been used since ages for increasing fertility with sexual drive in both men and women. It is also used for mood and energy upliftment. “Indigenous people are at the mercy of biopirates who steal their traditional knowledge of medicinal plants.” – Stephen Leahy4