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Clear rules needed to govern deep sea bioprospecting: UNU

Vast genetic resources ?"blue gold" on the international deep sea floor ?need protection from unfettered commercial exploitation, warns a new report from the Japan-based United Nations University Institute for Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS).

Increasingly recognized as important to humankind for their potential medical and other uses, deep sea resources are now more accessible and vulnerable than ever because of rapid advances in exploration technology, the report says.

Known as "extremophiles," the genetic make-up of organisms of the deep that live in extreme conditions of pressure, temperature and toxicity is drawing enormous interest from scientists and companies bioprospecting for possible pharmaceutical or industrial applications. Already several valuable products have been created and there is growing recognition of the potential of deep sea genes to advance human welfare.

The new report, Bioprospecting of Genetic Resources in the Deep Seabed (online at http://www.ias.unu.edu/binaries2/DeepSeabed_FINAL.pdf), cites rising concern about the absence of clear rules governing access to and the sharing of benefits derived from the "global commons" of the sea beds and about the potential for severe, perhaps permanent damage to these unique and sensitive ecosystems, which include seamounts, cold seeps and hydrothermal vents ?the latter considered nurseries for life on Earth.

"Deep sea ecosystems hold the promise of huge potential contributions to future human well-being, provide our planet with vital climate-related and other ecological services, and have much to teach us about life processes," says UNU-IAS Director A.H. Zakri.

"The unfettered and unregulated exploitation of international sea beds and the organisms living there could have serious long-term consequences for humankind," he says. "And for the private sector, uncertainty caused by the absence of clear, globally-agreed rules deters important research and investment decisio
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Source:United Nations University


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