DNA Day experts answer your questions about bioprospecting

Above: Image © chesterf, iStockphoto.com

When you discover valuable genetic material while bioprospecting, who owns it?

Good question! First, it depends where the material is found. For example, there are now regulations at Yellowstone National Park in the US with respect to their rights to materials isolated from there. And you need permission to go sampling on private property. But your question is more interesting, because it asks at the gene level. Because typically, at the end of the day, we often just use a gene of interest from a novel organism and transfer it into a plateform organism for use such as E. coli. Now the new strain of E. coli with the gene is patentable, and the inventor of the novel strain (or the company he or she works for) owns the patent.

- Answer provided by Dr. Richard Sparling

Where does Dr. Sparling conduct his "bioprospecting"? At marshes and farms?

I have done bioprospecting for cellulose degrading bacteria in self heating wood compost, I have had students looking in slues and mud around wheat fields. I have also sent a student to the hotsprings of New Zealand for thermophiles that might degrade woody material to ethanol.

- Answer provided by Dr. Richard Sparling

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