San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

S. Koreans Want Piece Of Biological Pie

The government of South Korea has joined the rush to “bioprospect” Costa Rica’s wealth of biodiversity.

Representatives from the South Korean government announced a partnership with the National Biodiversity Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cataloguing and facilitating the exploitation of the country’s dizzying variety of wildlife and plant species.

The institute’s bioprospecting manager, Lorena Guevara, said the South Koreans are investing $643,000 to expand the institute’s current facilities in Santo Domingo de Heredia, north of San José, and another $1 million in projects, specifically tied to plant research. At least one Korean scientist will also be added to the staff.

With multinational corporations, such as Eli Lilly, Merck, Bristol-Mayer, and universities such as Harvard already partnering with the institute, Guevara said South Korea decided it was time to get on board.

Bioprospecting is the collection of samples from animals, plants and microorganisms to be used to create new drugs, crops or industrial products.

Guevara said the best-known commercial results from bioprospecting so far in Costa Rica include two products – Quassia, a tree extract that helps with hangovers, and Estilo, an herb that serves as a sedative.

“Our mission is the systematic search for genes, molecules, chemical compounds that can be of pharmaceutical, agricultural or biotechnology use,” she said. “We have found some very interesting compounds, especially from microorganisms.”

The manager said the institute is working on identifying compounds that could be used as cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, malaria and asthma.


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