MARINE BIOPROSPECTING FOR ASIA-PACIFIC
Erle Frayne D. Argonza
Seaweeds, sponges, and sea urchins are species that abound in the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia. Add corals and more, and you’d have a long list of marine species that can serve medical and related purposes.
Biotech has reached maturity in Asia, and its applications had revolutionized crop production and forestry production. Biotech likewise has applications for marine products which, through bioprospecting and acceptable bio-mining methods, can truly be eco-sustaining at the same time as they benefit the larger human population.
This early, however, problems are already being encountered in unregulated prospecting and mining of biological species. Coupling bioprospecting in the Asia-Pacific should be policy frameworks and enforcement across the region, which the likes of the ASEAN can lead in institutionalization. Otherwise, the continent might lose too many of its rare species to greedy pirates from the Big Business, pirates that have silently been collecting, culturing, and patenting the same rare species.
Below is a fitting report about the subject.
[Philippines, 25 March 2012]
Asia-Pacific may benefit from marine bio-prospecting
2 March 2012
Miguel Costa Leal
[FIJI] Indo-Pacific nations stand to make millions of dollars from medical applications of resources from marine invertebrates such as sponges and soft corals, researchers say.
But they warn that better regulation of such resources is needed to ensure they are used sustainably.
Substances generated by some marine invertebrates have the potential to be used in drugs to treat diseases like cancer, and exploration for these resources is expected to rise in response to escalating demands for such drugs, said Miguel Costa Leal, biologist at the University of Aveiro in Portugal and lead author of a study in PLoS One (20 January).
"The global market for marine-derived drugs was around US$4.8 billion in 2011 and is forecast to reach US$8.6 billion by 2016," he told SciDev.Net.
"Worldwide, nations are generally aware of such interest. But adequate management guidelines addressing bioprospecting are still missing in most countries."
The study said that the Pacific Ocean accounts for most new marine natural products discovered over the past two decades – and for nearly two-thirds of all such products identified so far.
Leal said there is clear potential for marine invertebrates to contribute to the development of drugs that address a range of diseases such as cancers, microbial infections, inflammation, malaria and tuberculosis.
But he called for better regulations to govern bio-prospectors and marine systems, to ensure such resources are adequately protected.
A keen debate on the governance of marine resources is expected at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil in June, where oceans are a key theme.
The draft negotiating document for Rio+20 stresses the importance of "equitable sharing of marine and ocean resources" and calls for an urgent start on negotiating an agreement under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea "that would address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction".
In the Pacific, there are also calls for wealth from marine resources to be shared with indigenous communities.
"The chemical resources of the marine environment remain underdeveloped, in particular in the vast Pacific region," said Eric Clua, co-ordinator of the Coral Reef Initiatives for the Pacific at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
"Indigenous peoples' traditional knowledge of plants and their medicinal uses has long been a source for modern medicine," Clua said, adding that they have "often seen little or no benefit from the commercialisation of medicines originating from their traditional knowledge".
Link to full study in PLoS ONE [925kB]