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Amlan Satapathy

Bioprospecting can range

from trekking across the
Amazon to trekking across
the street to a cow pasture.
Genome Management Information System,
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
What is Bioprospecting?

Bioprospecting, also known as biodiversity

prospecting, is the exploration of biological
material for commercially valuable genetic and
biochemical properties.
In simple terms this means the searching,
finding and isolating the particular life form
( Bacteria, fungus, microbial yeast, etc ) And
utilise it for betterment of mankind.
Concept of
Extreme environments, provide habitats for
extremophiles, organisms with unique characteristics
developed for survival.
The biological processes and materials which enable
these extremophiles to survive in extreme temperatures,
pressures, salinity etc, and other unique conditions are
sources of great potential for scientific advancement and
commercial application.
These Enzymes derived from extremophiles have been
used in detergents, food processing, cleaning, dyeing,
medical diagnosis, skin protection products, and
Bioprospecting of marine environments is conducted
almost exclusively in regions at extreme depths
specifically around submarine trenches, cold seeps,
seamounts and hydrothermal vents.
Thermus aquaticus PCR
Aequorea victoria GFP for glofish
Antarctic ice fish anti freeze protein
LAL - Limulus amebocyte lysate (Rapid microbiological
Why is it needed?
The underlying aim of bio prospecting is to find new
resources and products from nature that can be
used by humans.
Improving human health, through both medicine and
better nutrition are key focal areas.
It plays a dominant role in discovering leads for drug
development, since existing/known compounds for
developing drugs for human use are limited.
A study showed that between 1983 and 2003, almost
two thirds of anti-cancer agents being investigated as
drug candidates were derived from natural products..
Other related sectors, such as crop plant biotechnology,
screen natural resources for useful traits, such as
disease resistance.
Although bioprospecting can happen wherever there is
biodiversity, it tends to be focused where biodiversity is
at its richest, as this raises the chances of finding
something useful.
Statistically, the chance of a successful hit is one in
10,000 for synthetic compounds and one in 30,000 or
40,000 for natural products.
Extreme environments and unique ecological niches are
also good sources for diversity, such as Antarctica. Yet,
only a tiny fraction of the worlds biodiversity has actually
been explored and the richest areas of biodiversity tend
to be in developing countries.
Process of Bioprospecting
As a process, it generally consists of four phases:
Phase 1: on-site collection of samples;
Phase 2: isolation, charactisation and culture of specific
Phase 3: screening for potential uses, such as
pharmaceutical or other uses; and,
Phase 4: product development and commercialisation,
including patenting, trials, sales and marketing.
Who does
Pharmaceutical, agribusiness (biotechnology,
seed, crop protection and horticulture), cosmetic
and personal care, fragrance, botanicals, and
the food and beverage industries.
The pharmaceutical and agri-business sectors
are more involved.
Natural products research is very resource intensive
requiring lots of money, people and expertise, making
large companies reluctant to get involved again
Added potential
environmental impacts of

In situ experiments in and around the Deep Seabed can

introduce light and noise or change water temperature,
which, in-turn, can affect procreation and the survival of
organisms in these areas.
Bioprospecting activities can also produce pollution in
the form of debris or discharge from vessels and
Additionally, inadvertant movement of organisms through
disrupting currents or discarding of scientific samples
can lead to biological contamination.
Finally, there is the usual possibility of over-exploitation
in harvesting organisms in these regions and the flow on
environmental impacts.
Key issues & challenges

Conservation versus exploitation:

Conservation is not always the top priority of
nations, and some seek to make a quick profit from their
natural resources rather than preserving them. As a result,
the biodiversity they wish to exploit is disappearing.
Lack of legal clarity:
There is a need for clearer, more specific rules
on how origins of samples and IK are recorded and their
benefits shared, both nationally and abroad.
The commercial benefit should be accrue to
those who discovered the active ingredient or the biotech
company able to identify/ improve on this key ingredient
Greater sector involvement:
Many sectors actively involved in bioprospecting
remain ignorant of the regulations, and are committing
biopiracy. Education and participation in relevant
international and national discussions is needed to ensure
regulation across all sectors.
Sea Squirt and Spiny dogfish
Ecteinascidin 743 and Aplidinen isolated from the Sea
Squirt Ecteinascidia turbinate from the Carribean Sea
are undergoing trials for use as an anti cancer
Squalamine isolated from the Spiny dogfish Squalus
acanthias found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is an
antibiotic substance under development.
Aplidine,isolated from the Mediterranean tunicate,
Aplidium albicans, has shown activity against certain
types of tumor.