The Pacific region has experienced some of the world's worst examples of unethical bio-research and patenting of genes by international companies, according to a new book launched by co-publishers Call of the Earth Llamado de la Tierra, and the United Nations University.
The unique flora, fauna and peoples of the small island nations scattered across the South Pacific have attracted legions of tourists but also hoards of genetic and biomedical researchers. Pacific Islander's DNA and plants relied upon for millennia have been patented without permission. Bizarre human-animal hybrid transgenic experiments have been conducted and one biomedical experiment nearly turned the tiny Cook Islands into a "rogue state" in the eyes of the US government, according to the book.
"Researchers are harvesting and patenting the Pacific region's genetic resources by simply gathering and taking ownership over almost everything in their path," says Aroha Mead, Senior Lecturer at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand, and co-editor of the book, Pacific Genes and Life Patents, launched at the university March 20.
An absence of regulation and widespread naivet regarding the latest genetic technologies and intellectual patent law has made the region a major target for commercial 'gene' hunters or bio-prospectors, she says, likening gene pirates to the oceans bottom feeders.
"In South Pacific cultures a plant is a living ancestor and even a drop of human blood retains its life spirit after it has been collected for medical research or synthesized and specific DNA qualities isolated," says A.H. Zakri, Director of the United Nations Universitys Yokohama-based Institute of Advanced Studies. "The authors chronicle many actions over the years by the scientific and private sector communities that offend these deeply-held values. We hope this book helps advance international understanding."