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Researchers build new model of bio-exploration
Date:12/11/2007

Two land-grant universities have developed a new approach to global bio-exploration, one that returns most of the fruits of discovery to the countries that provide the raw materials on which the research depends.

The Global Institute for Bio-Exploration, a joint initiative of the University of Illinois and Rutgers University, has become a model of sustainable, non-exploitive research in the developing world.

The program began in 2003 when research teams from the two universities joined forces to work in several former Soviet Union republics under an International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups program funded with $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. Based on lessons learned in Central Asia, the researchers built on this model to create the institute, which is now expanding into Africa and South America.

The institute builds relationships with and trains those in developing countries to prospect for plants that have interesting biological properties, said U. of I. natural resources and environmental sciences professor Mary Ann Lila, a co-founder of the institute.

Rather than the typical bio-prospecting approach, where people take plants back to their labs in Western Europe or the U.S., we teach locals to conduct simple assays in the field, Lila said. When field results identify plants with potentially useful properties, the researchers do follow-up studies in the laboratory.

But when a discovery is made in the field with a local, the intellectual property rights stay there, Lila said. The country is required to use any money it receives from licensing fees or royalties to develop its own research infrastructure and protect wild lands.

Pharmaceutical companies already have shown interest.

So far, the institute also known by the acronym GIBEX has generated 17 licensing agreements, a dozen of them from Central Asian leads, with companies hoping to make use of plants that have
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Contact: Diana Yates
diya@uiuc.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign  
Source:Eurekalert

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