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Undiscovered Biological Diversity: A Symposium On Bioprospecting

Like the miners and gold panners before them, these prospectors search for hidden treasures scattered throughout the natural world. But their gems are not shiny stones and precious ores -- today's bioprospectors mine organisms for molecules that can fight disease, protect the environment, or even make a better laundry detergent.

At the 99th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) May 30-June 3 in Chicago, a microbiologist from the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory will be co-chairing a symposium on bioprospecting. INEEL's Rick Colwell and his colleague Anna-Louise Reysenbach, a microbiologist from Portland State University, have gathered a panel of experts who will speak on microbial diversity, the search for novel natural products, and the intimate relationship between natural resource preservation and bioprospecting.

Bioprospectors explore organisms for naturally occurring molecules that can improve human life. "Some early drugs were happenstance discoveries of some phenomenon in the lab that ended up serendipitously being valuable," said Colwell. "But bioprospecting is shifting scientists toward intensive searches for chemical products that would have been subtle or difficult to detect."

Bioprospectors look to nature to get a head start on developing useful products. "The natural world has spent a long time experimenting with chemistry," said Colwell. "We can ask, what good chemistry has already been done in natural systems and how do we go about finding it? Bioprospecting offers a directed scientific approach to evaluate new products such as antibiotics, anti-cancer drugs and anti-parasite drugs."

With interest in bioprospecting growing alongside a worldwide interest in species preservation, Colwell volunteered to bring together speakers to address the topic at the ASM meeting. The panel of six speakers ranges from a San Diego mari
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Contact: Mary Beckman
beckmt@inel.gov
208-526-0061
DOE/Idaho National Laboratory
28-May-1999


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