I am catching up on my journal reading, and was shocked to read this in Nature:

“An international collaboration to study insects in the Western Ghats mountains in southern India has been unable to get off the ground because of government concerns over biopiracy…the project has stalled because India’s National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) has denied the Ashoka Trust permission to export the specimens, despite assurances that they would be returned to India after identification. “We have to send the specimens abroad for identification as we do not have the expertise at home,” Dharmarajan says….

Krishnamoorthy Venkataraman, secretary of the NBA, says that the rules aim to fight biopiracy and not to stop basic research….The NBA encourages Indian scientists to send photographs or digital images to collaborators abroad instead of actual specimens, he says.”

That just isn’t going to work. You can’t do advanced taxonomic research with a photo.

I think it’s a sad statement about the level of trust between countries, when they won’t allow specimens to be shared between scientists in this way. :(

Also in this issue of Nature: A well-deserved dope slap to the current head of EPA:

“In a rational world, Johnson would resign in favour of someone who could at least feign an interest in the environment. Alas, it seems that he will probably stay on until January 2009, refusing waivers, fighting lawsuits and further depressing employees’ morale. “

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. There’s an interesting parallel here.
    As Tara Smith has noted, Indonesia refuses to release H5N1 isolates, citing fear of exploitation, and has even objected to humanitarian efforts to treat the “Tree Man” — again, claiming to be afraid that blood and tissue samples taken out of the country “could be used in the future to make vaccines that the poor could not afford.”
    This kind of ferociously proprietary attitude toward the (potentially profitable) fruits of nature is stupid, and deeply self-defeating. Where do you suppose the Indian and Indonesian governments could have learned this behavior?

  2. I must say, you’re showing laudable restraint – my response to the Indian entomology situation was rather snarkier.

  3. Well, that’s a first–I’m less snarky than someone else!

  4. thank god! you did not know that “ganja” or “weed” or “cannabis” originating from subcontinent of India is a herb “ganjika” of ayurveda- traditional medicine of india which can act as an intoxicating hallucinogen only if mixed with some other ingredients.

    I think you know the consequnces of consuming the herb otherwise.

    I thank my ancestors for being sneakier. I hail my ancestors that they are written only in sanskrit.

    Else you would have been much sneakier to file a patent claiming that it is not ganjika but cannobis that you have invented…

  5. we still grow the “cannabis” plants in our backyards in india and we still know how to use them…

    I am not blaming US of A for this situation… but it is because of the selfish desire of some of the individuals that push us into a corner where we have to act sneakier…

  6. Soooo, you’re saying this is all because westerners want to copyright pot???

    I think you may have smoked a bit too much of your herb.

  7. Ok, but the scientists involved have signed contracts to return the insects.

    A jerk trying to patent yoga isn’t really the same thing as sharing scientific expertise for the benefit of all.

  8. Biopiracy is a legitimate concern for developing countries, and concerns about it shouldn’t be dismissed. The idea that research on Indian organisms is best conducted in India is, for the most part, quite laudable. However, our complaint is that by effectively preventing collaborations between Indian and Western researchers, the Indian government is making it prohibitively difficult, if not impossible, for Indian researchers to acquire the skills, resources, etc. to conduct such research themselves in the first place.

  9. Ditto-What Chris Said.
    Additionally, the insects are not being removed to investigate them for commercial products–they are being studied to simply document what is there, and see if it needs to be conserved.

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