I recently had the pleasure of attending a conference devoted to looking at the Argentine ant in New Zealand (see the summary document here). The conference managed to draw a diverse range of participants, including academics, council workers and pest control officers. Though, what struck me as surprising about the conference was the clear dichotomy between the academic community and other participants.
It seemed clear (to me at least) that academically speaking much of the research has been focusing on ecological impacts, rates of spread, taxonomic and identification issues. Of course, these are not necessarily bad foci, but it seemed rather odd, given that most council workers seemed interested in control methods (such as poison baiting etc) that no scientists were active in this field of research.
Maybe I am shooting my own work in the foot (which has a distinctly non-practicable flavor to it), but it continues to strike me as of great concern, given the Millennium Assessments 'wake up call’ to humanity about the state of our worlds ecosystems that we continue to devote so much time to what seems like frivolous academic pursuits!
The past decade has witnessed an increasing growth in demands and applications for the protection of traditional and indigenous knowledge systems from profit-hungry commercial interests, usually attributed to behemothic multi-national pharmaceutical corporations. Public protests and campaigns by academics, religious leaders, parliamentarians and environment NGOs have marked the continual struggle against biopiracy.
After scoring these crucial and well-deserved victories, India is now entering into an agreement with the EPO to enable the EPO to reject patent requests where long-established knowledge is passed off as innovation. This initiative is being given shape by the National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (NISCIR) in conjunction with the Department of Ayurveda, Unani, Sidha, Homoeopathy and Yoga (Ayush) under the aegis of the Ministry of Science and Technology. NISCIR will be preparing a digital database of at least 136,000 traditional Indian medicines that will be referred to by the EPO while considering patent applications for innovations of botanical origin.
Now it remains to be seen whether this step will suffice in stemming the recurrence of biopiracy.