Polar biotech

Dozens of companies are mining the Arctic's biological resources for their biotech potential, a United Nations report has found. Bioprospecting in the Arctic identified 31 patents and patent applications for inventions based on Arctic genetic resources. The patents cover several areas including enzymes, anti-freeze proteins and bioremediation, and are derived from marine and hot-spring microbes, cold-water fish, mammals and plant extracts. The industry is well established, says David Leary, author of the report and post-doctoral fellow at the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies in Tokyo. Leary identified 43 companies involved in researching or commercializing Arctic-derived biotech. He was surprised at the scale of the activity. “Some policy makers are under the impression that it is not happening there,” he said. Organisms in the Polar Regions have adapted to the harsh conditions, including extreme temperature and salinity, so offer the potential to develop novel biotech applications. “Organisms living in cold waters have enzymes with high activity,” says Gerd Nilsen, a product manager at Biotec Pharmacon, a biopharmaceutical company based in Tromsø, Norway, that has commercialized a recombinant cod liver enzyme—uracil-DNA-glycosylase—for use in molecular diagnostic kits. The threat of commercial exploitation in the poles is real, Leary cautions. “Where there is an environmental impact...you have to think about regulating it,” he says.

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Hoag, H. Polar biotech. Nat Biotechnol 26, 1204 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt1108-1204a

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