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European scientists are warning that a push to include “digital sequence information” in an international agreement against biopiracy could stifle research, hamper the fight against disease outbreaks, and even jeopardize food safety. Under proposed changes to the Nagoya Protocol, researchers might have to ask a country’s government for permission before using publicly available gene sequences obtained from plants or animals originating there. Just how that would work is unclear, but some biologists are alarmed.
“If this comes to pass the regulatory burden will be enormous,“ says Andreas Graner, head of the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Gatersleben, Germany. “A lot of research could stop in its tracks.” The European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO) warned in a 26 June statement that the plan “would smother research activities worldwide.” The United States, however, has not ratified the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to which the 2010 Nagoya Protocol is a supplementary agreement, and would not be bound by changes to the protocol.
Biopiracy—in - Scientists - Companies - Resources - World—has
Biopiracy—in which scientists or companies profit from the biological resources they find elsewhere in the world—has long been a concern of developing nations with a rich biodiversity. In one famous example, the U.S. company W. R. Grace in 1995 patented an oil extracted from the seeds of the Indian neem tree, long known for its medicinal properties, as a fungicide; the European Patent Office eventually revoked the patent because the concept wasn't new. Under the Nagoya Protocol, countries can ask foreign researchers what they plan to study during a visit, and require a plan to share the benefits of any useful organisms they find. (A 1962 United Nations resolution already enshrined countries' "sovereignty over natural resources” and some nations already had laws to regulate access and demand sharing of benefits, but the Nagoya Protocol created the...
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