December/January 2005 - International Technology and ...

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December/January 2005 - International Technology and ...

RESOURCES IN TECHNOLOGYbiocolonialism is used to describethe exploitation of these nations’resources for financial gain (Rifkin,1998).In any gold rush there are unscrupulouscharacters. In California, SamBrannan became extremely wealthyby running through the streets andyelling that he had found gold.Although he had a small sample in hishand, Brannan planned to makemoney from other prospectors, notpanning. Brannan had purchased all ofthe shovels and other panningequipment in the area. Biopiracy isjust as deceptive but is primarilyattempted by large multi-nationalcorporations—sometimes without anation’s consent.At the beginning of the bioprospectingrush, companies hurried to collectsamples and applied for patents.Fortunately, courts and regulatoryagencies have, for the most part,taken a tough line on biopiracy. Thegeneral consensus is that if abiological material has not beenaltered or used in a novel way (i.e.new industrial process), then it doesnot constitute intellectual property(IP). Patent policy has been shaped bythese rulings, and attempts to claimherbs and homeopathic remedies usedfor centuries by natives have beensignificantly slowed by this stance(Graham, 2002).Organizations have also stepped in tohelp third world and developingnations. The United Nations educatesthird world and developing nations in anumber of ways. The United NationsUniversity, Institute for AdvancedStudies (UNU/IAS) regularly publishesreports and presents regionalseminars to teach these nations howto manage their resources. Topicsinclude overviews of the biotechnologyindustry, safety,intellectual property, and methodsfor negotiating with bioprospectors.From Raw Materials toFinished ProductsBy manipulating proteins, usingenzymes, and altering genes—thebasic building blocks of life—we canuse natural materials in a variety ofways. To learn how these buildingblocks are used, it is helpful toorganize them into groups. The fourmain categories of biotechnologies areagriculture, pharmaceutical,environmental, and industrial (DeMiranda, 2004).Agricultural biotechnologies arearguably the oldest and most widelyused. Rather than traditional methodsof animal husbandry and seedselection, however, newer methodsare more controlled. For example,Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is abacterium that was initiallyprospected from flower moths andused as an insecticide. However,agriculture companies now engineerstrains of Bt into crops such as corn,potatoes, cotton, and soybeans(Figure 3). These crops target aspecific pest and are formulated sothey do not damage other insects. Onepotential drawback, however, is thatthe prolonged exposure mayeventually lead to insect resistance ofthe toxins.Pharmaceutical companies areinvesting heavily in bioprospecting. Inone example, heavyweights Pfizer,Pharmacia, and Upjohn have allinvested in a firm (Incyte) thatallegedly contains a database of nearly100,000 genes (Rifkin, 1998). Whenyou consider that over half of thecancer drugs approved by the U.S.Food and Drug Administration are ofnatural origin or are modeled onnatural products, you can see why thepharmaceutical companies areprogressive bioprospectors.Surfactants (Surface active agents)are a significant environmentalbioprospecting achievement.Surfactants are wetting agents thathelp with the spreading of liquids. Ifyou have ever read the label on yourlaundry detergent, you have probablyseen surfactants as an ingredient.Surfactants are also used for theextraction of oil. Researchers haveprospected microorganisms fromwells and used them in variousmixtures to obtain oil. Thesesurfactant “cocktails” drasticallyincrease output because most oil isFigure 3: Crops modified with Bt toxins offer protection against pests that targetroots, foliage, or bore. Traditional pesticides are sprayed on and generally onlyprotect crop foliage.16 December/January 2005 • THE TECHNOLOGY TEACHER

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