Who Should Profit from Yellowstone’s Microbes

Posted on November 23, 2007  Comments (0)

The Gold in Yellowstone’s Microbes

Year by year, Yellowstone’s hot waters are yielding remarkable new microbial specimens with implications for medicine, agriculture and energy, as well as offering clues to the formation of earliest life on Earth and maybe even on Mars. The potential financial windfalls are enormous, as evidenced by one big jackpot.

Yellowstone microbes (and those from a few other hot spots on the planet) may also hold great promise for bioremediation — cleaning up chemical pollution, oil slicks and smokestack emissions — as well as the means to accelerate biomass fermentation and develop drought-resistant crops. And there is more to be discovered: Probably less than one percent of Yellowstone’s microscopic life forms have been discovered and studied.

the National Park Service signed a secretive research-sharing agreement with Diversa Corporation in 1998. Non-profit groups quickly cried “bio-piracy!” when they found out and sued the Service over the arrangement. While a federal court dismissed the case, it ordered the Park Service to address the issue… But the Park Service is still trying to come up with an acceptable, benefits-sharing agreement that might allow bio-prospecting of microbes and disclosure of findings, with a fair return to the Park from any commercial success.

Related: Patenting Life, a Bad IdeaLight-harvesting Bacterium Discovered in YellowstoneYellowstone National Park PhotosLife-patentsScientists Chart Record Rise in Yellowstone Caldera

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