Wednesday, July 11, 2007

When will Bangladesh consider microbial biodiversity as a potential resource?

Broadly there are three groups of living beings; plant, animal and microorganisms.To general people, microorganisms mean pathogen, harmful creature. In reality, around 97% microorganisms are beneficial for mankind, directly or indirectly. Like plant and animal diversity of a country, microbial biodiversity is also a resource for a country. Like any other resources, we should make maximum use of this resource.

General people may be aware of utilization of gas, coal, oil etc, but not supposed to be aware of the potential of this tiny community. These are the microbiologists in person and organisation who are to make people aware of the resource, convince policy maker to take policy for maximize utilization of microbial source of the country.

The African country Kenya has taken initiative in this regard. From the report published in on July 5, 2007, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has entered a five-year biotechnology research partnership with a Danish company to use enzymes with potential industrial applications, especially in biofuels and medicine

KWS signed a memorandum of understanding with Novozymes on June 28, giving the firm rights to exploit, for commercial use, the rich microbial biodiversity within KWS controlled areas.

Under the agreement, KWS will receive royalties from the sales of any products developed from its microorganisms. KWS will also collaborate with Novozymes in enzyme research and development and patenting.

Novozymes will also assist Kenya through technology transfer, institutional capacity building and training of Kenyan students in bioprospecting — the process of developing genetic resources from plants, animals and microorganisms into marketable goods. The company has also agreed to build a special laboratory at the KWS headquarters in Nairobi, and provide materials for enzyme screening as well as cover researchers' travel costs.

Steen Riisgaard, Novozymes' chief executive, said that the company was targeting Kenya because of its wealth of biodiversity, and that it was happy to be giving something to Kenya in return.

KWS director Julius Kipng'etich told SciDev.Net that Kenya's microbial diversity is largely unexploited, and could greatly benefit the country.

Like Kenya, Bangladesh is also wealthy in biodiversity and the microbial biodiversity of Bangladesh, the largest delta in the world, is also unutilized.
The hard reality is that we are not even aware to the level of Kenya that microbial population of our country is a potential source and it should be exploited like any other resources.

It may be a matter of debate, discussion and decision whether we will allow foreign company to explore our microbial biodiversity or not. But there should be no doubt that we should consider our microbial population a potential resource and we should take proper measures for its maximum utilization.

Who will bell the cat? Who will make the nation understand and realize that microbial community is also a resource of our country? Who will convince our government and industrialists that we should invest for exploitation of microbial community for our food, fuel, medicine and safe environment?

No doubt, responsibilities go to the shoulder of every microbiologist. However as the oldest and recognized organization of microbiologists, Bangladesh Society of Microbiologists (BSM) is most responsible to take initiative in this regard. Share of Graduate Microbiologists Association is not less in this respect.
Later is better than never. The sooner we start to carry out our overdue responsibilities, the better it is for us and for Bangladesh.

Kenya has already started gaining from the initiative. Novozymes has already developed an enzyme called 'Pulpzyme' from bacteria in two lakes in Kenya's Rift Valley province, for which KWS has received about US$9,000 in royalties and will continue to receive annual payments. Pulpzyme reduces the amount of chlorine ― an environmental pollutant ― needed to bleach wood pulp, thus improving the environmental sustainability of pulp and paper manufacturing.

So to meet the fuel demand of the country, safe environment and affordable medicine and health facilities, we need to count microbial biodiversity as a potential resource and make policy for its best utilization.