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What is Biopiracy?

written by: Rishi Prakash•edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 12/9/2008

Biopiracy has nothing to do with the high seas and swashbuckling thieves; it's how big organizations and developed countries are exploiting the genetic resources of developing countries.

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    Several major organizations and overseas companies exploit and/or patent biological resources or genetic resources of other nations without formal or appropriate agreements with the countries concerned; this is called biopiracy. These developed nations are well-off in terms of technology and financial resources but deprived in biodiversity and traditional knowledge related to the exploitation of genetic resources. Developing nations are poor in technology and financial resources, but are rich in biodiversity and traditional knowledge related to bioresources.

    Biological resources, or bioresources include all those organisms that can be used to derive commercial benefits. Traditional knowledge of bioresources and how they can be used to treat and cure disease (because of the properties they contain) has been developed by various communities over long periods of time. Often this traditional knowledge can be exploited to develop modern therapeutics. There are some companies who have entered into reciprocal arrangements with source communities and countries, but many have not.

    Institutions and companies of industrialized nations are collecting and exploiting the bioresources as follows:

    • · They are collecting and patenting the genetic resources themselves.

    • · The bioresources are being analyzed for identification of valuable biomolecules. A biomolecule is a compound produced by a living organism. The biomolecules are then patented and used for commercial activities.

    • · Useful genes are isolated from the bioresources and patented. These genes are then used to generate commercial products.

    • · The traditional knowledge related to bioresources is utilized to achieve the above objectives. In some cases, the traditional knowledge itself may be subject of a patent.

    Bioresources of the developing world have always been commercially exploited by the industrialized nations, and in many cases this has been done without providing an adequate compensation to the developing world. This exploitation has dramatically increased in pace with the development of powerful analytical tools and techniques. There has been a growing realization of this injustice and demands are being made for adequate compensation and benefit sharing. Some nations are developing comprehensive laws to prevent unauthorized exploitation of their bioresources and traditional knowledge.

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    Reference Section

    Canmexworkshop. “What is Biopiracy?" Retrieved on December 8, 2008 from What is Biopiracy.