Bringing the Ocean to Society
16 Sep 2020
Innovative method quantifies 50-year marine capacity building
EurOcean Member CESAM's tool also serves to evaluate the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

An innovative study, with authors from the Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies (CESAM) of the University of Aveiro (UA), quantifies, on a global scale, the scientific training achieved over the last 50 years for the discovery of new natural products of marine origin. The study was published in the renowned magazine Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Marine biodiversity has enormous potential for blue biotechnology, constituting an incredible reservoir of genetic and biological resources that can be used, for example, in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and nutraceutical industries. The increased interest in these products and the fact that they are bioprospected mostly by developed countries, and not necessarily by the countries where the biological material is collected, has raised several legal problems, namely related to the benefits resulting from the use of these resources.

This issue is part of the Convention on Biological Diversity implemented in 1993, and later by the Nagoya Protocol. This Protocol provides practical guidance on how the process of accessing biological resources and sharing the benefits resulting from their use and associated knowledge should work. One of the key aspects of this Protocol is to empower the countries of origin of the resources so that they can exploit them in a sustainable manner and take advantage of their benefits. However, measuring the capacity of these countries is a complex task for which little data exist.

The article “Fifty years of capacity building in the search for new marine natural products shows how the capacity to improve knowledge, effectiveness and scientific independence of countries performing bioprospecting has changed since 1965. The authors have developed several metrics related to the country of origin of the compound and affiliation of the authors of the article that described it.

While there have been long-standing efforts to build capacity in developing countries with marine areas with high levels of biodiversity, as well as to promote equity and scientific independence, the results show that not all countries are able to exploit their marine biological resources equally. Furthermore, the study shows that economic capacity affects the way countries with high levels of marine biodiversity are able to effectively exploit these resources. For example, countries such as India, Indonesia and Palau have demonstrated greater scientific capacity after 1993. Although countries such as Australia, the United States and Japan continue to maintain a dominant scientific position in this area of research before and after 1993, China has developed most in terms of scientific capability and independence.

Since the article provides measurable data comparable across countries around the world, it is expected that these results may influence high-level international political negotiations that currently take place on access and benefit-sharing associated with the exploitation of biological resources.

The study is led by researcher Miguel Leal, from CESAM-UA, in co-authorship with Ricardo Calado, member of the same research unit. The team also includes two emeritus professors from the University of Canterbury (New Zealand), pioneers in the research of natural compounds of marine origin.

The original article can be read here.