Genencor et al.

Nominated for Other (specify below)

Monday 06 March 2006

Reasons for this nomination

Nominee: Genencor et al.
Category: Murkiest Case of Biopiracy

For taking, patenting, cloning and selling 'extremophile' microorganisms collected from lakes in Kenya. In the late 1980s, scientists connected to Leicester University (UK) collected microrganisms living in the hot geysers of two of Kenya's lakes. The organisms produce enzymes that were found to be great fabric softeners and 'faders' - giving fabrics a stone-washed appearance popular with consumers. By 1995, the microorganisms were in the hands of Dutch company Royal Gist-Brocades, and were passed on to US company Genencor when it bought the Dutch company in 1995. Genencor patented them and then began producing them (through cloning) on an industrial scale. Genencor, since bought by Denmark-based Danisco (2005), sells them to detergent manufacturers and textile companies. The Kenyan Wildlife Service maintains that the collectors never had the proper permits to take the microorganisms for commercial use in the first place. To make matters murkier, the Kenyan researcher who proposed the original bioprospecting expedition so that she could write a dissertation on the topic of extremophiles living in Kenya's lakes - she was a Ph.D. student at the time and is now a professor of Botany in Kenya - suspects that her supervisors at Leicester University took the samples without her knowledge. She cannot recall anyone asking her permission to use them. It seems that her UK supervisors conducted clandestine research on the samples, discovered their commercially useful properties and then sold them.

Supporting information:
Christine W. Gichure, Ph. D., Kenyatta University, 'Who Benefits from African Research?' 2005.

Jay McGown, Out of Africa: Mysteries of Access and Benefit Sharing, edited by Beth Burrows, Edmonds Institute and African Centre for Biosafety, 2006

Cormac Sheridan, 'Kenyan dispute illuminates bioprospecting difficulties, Nature Biotechnology, doi:10.1038/nbt1104-1337.

Antony Barnett, 'Multi-million bio-piracy lawsuit over faded jeans and African lakes,' The Observer, September 5, 2004.

Supporting info

Supporting information:
Christine W. Gichure, Ph. D., Kenyatta University, 'Who Benefits from African Research?' 2005.

Jay McGown, Out of Africa: Mysteries of Access and Benefit Sharing, edited by Beth Burrows, Edmonds Institute and African Centre for Biosafety, 2006

Cormac Sheridan, 'Kenyan dispute illuminates bioprospecting difficulties, Nature Biotechnology, doi:10.1038/nbt1104-1337.

Antony Barnett, 'Multi-million bio-piracy lawsuit over faded jeans and African lakes,' The Observer, September 5, 2004.