I  U  P  A  C

News & Notices

Organizations & People

Standing Committees



..By Year
..By Division
..Other Committees




Links of Interest

Search the Site

Home Page

Pure Appl. Chem., Vol. 68, No.12, pp. 2325-2332, 1996


Preservation and utilization of natural biodiversity in context of search for economically valuable medicinal biota
(Technical Report)

> Abstract
> Background
> Issues
> Recommendations
> Appendices
  1. The Manila Declaration
  2. The Melaka Accord


Those who live close to nature are often keen observers of its wonders and many currently used medicines, such as morphine and quinine, have resulted from preservation and subsequent investigation of this knowledge. Such knowledge still exists, especially in undisturbed environments. It is obviously potentially valuable but it is a thorny question of what value to place on it. Historically, such knowledge has often been undervalued or uncompensated without any intended ill will. It is recognized that difficulties can develop based on differing social and cultural norms among local populations as compared with firms in developed countries and that more than one local practitioner may be in possession of analogous knowledge of drugs and other useful products passed down for generations.

Where plant or other natural materials are collected for general pharmacological screening, intellectual property rights are clearly less involved. The materials are most sensibly regarded as the property of those having title or jurisdiction to the land upon which they occur subject to the applicable laws of regional, state and national jurisdiction. It is recognized that friction all too often exists between local populations and those claiming authority over them. These problems complicate the issues at hand.

It is a non-trivial question to ask who should benefit from a country's indigenous biota. Ideally those who possess the biota and those who wish to bring its benefits to a wider population should work out equitable and realistic contracts to share in the proceeds according to the intrinsic value they have contributed. It is simplistic to suggest that oil and mineral fields provide an adequate precedent for these resources are not living and cannot multiply. Removal of a few seeds or cuttings of particularly valuable materials can result in enormous value to those effecting the removal and reestablishment at a distant site. This problem is becoming more severe as a consequence of the rapid development of means of transferring genes. Most peoples have until recently regarded genes to be mankind's common heritage. Attempts to patent genetic materials up to and including the human genome and naturally disease resistant plant varieties have changed this view by asserting individual proprietary value to these materials. The providers of genetic material now wish to see their genetic contribution rewarded. The import of this has not been lost to the possessors of a wide variety of genetic materials. It is not possible to construct a parallel scenario in the fields of oil or minerals. In this view bioprospecting is not a comparable term. Constructive approaches to these problems need to be formulated.

Discoveries such as taxol which go unchanged to market are the exception rather than the rule but the problems dealt with above are easier to put in perspective than in the greater majority of cases where the initial discovery is not marketable per se but requires extensive chemical manipulation before a marketable version emerges. Those expecting large and immediate financial returns from ethnobotanical discoveries should ponder the reality that it took 30 years from collection to marketing in the taxol case! Cephalosporin C to cefotaxime is a more complex example of this. The initial collection of the mold eventually led to profoundly valuable results, but only after an enormous expenditure of time, ingenuity, and money. Here the initial finding was much less valuable in contributory terms when weighed against the necessary contributions which came later.

Effective means for biopreservation need to be formulated and implemented. Difficulties arise from land usage pressures and destructive harvesting. Contributory factors include redundancy of overseeing authorities in some regions, inadequate enforcement capabilities and outdated legislation.


Page last modified 22 May 2000.
Copyright © 2000 International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.
Questions or comments about IUPAC, please contact, the Secretariat.
Questions regarding the website, please contact Web Help.