On the fly, a solution to the cancer: in 2015, Brazilian and British researchers found that the venom of the wasp known as paulistinha is able to distinguish and attack cancer cells🇧🇷 A treatment for toothache was found in the extract of jambu, a vegetable used in Pará cuisine. The feat was recorded by Unicamp researchers in 2017.
Every time a species in nature yields a scientific discovery, a medical solution or a new product, the credit also goes to the holders of biodiversity, who can receive ‘royalties’ for the economic results of the use of biodiversity.
In the case of sugarcane, known for decades for its energy potential in ethanol productionits productivity should be leveraged from the genetic sequencing developed by USP.
In addition to physical samples, biodiversity resources carry treasures in their DNA. From now on, the sharing of benefits for accessing biodiversity extends to the digital genetic information available in databases. The decision was adopted in the early hours of Monday (19) by the COP15 on Biodiversity HIM.
Over the past decade, the availability of genetic information of species in digital databases accelerated the development of research, dispensing with physical access to genetic materials.
Innovation has emptied the Nagoia Protocol of 2010which establishes guidelines for bilateral commercial relations between a country holding and another user of biodiversity —so that the use of the resource is subject to prior authorization, in accordance with each national law.
In addition to updating Nagoya by including digital genetic information as part of the heritage subject to benefit sharing, the COP15 decision takes a step towards facilitating the complex implementation of the agreement: the countries agreed with the creation of a multilateral fund that will make the intermediation between users and holders of biodiversity.
Thus, the company that creates an innovation based on biodiversity will be able to pay royalties to a multilateral fund —rather than having to trace the provenance of the DNA and seek to negotiate with the country (or countries) of origin. The international fund, in turn, will define the criteria for transferring royalties to countries that hold biodiversity.
As the rules will only be defined next year, there is still uncertainty about how the great holders of biodiversity will be able to benefit. There’s a cake on the table, but we don’t know if we’ll get a slice, said a COP15 negotiator in reference to the lack of definitions about the new mechanism.
Brazil, which concentrates around 20% of the world’s biodiversity, according to UNEP (UN Program for the Environment), was a leading advocate of the digital genetic sequencing agenda at COP15 and overcame the resistance of rich countries —mainly the Japanwho insisted on the argument that the immaterial nature of genetic information would leave it outside the scope of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
“Today the main databases [de sequências genéticas] are under the governance of European Unionfrom Japan and the United States, and they don’t ask for consent or authorization to use that sequence, you can download it and use it however you want”, says biologist Henry Novion, specialist in access and benefit-sharing of genetic heritage.
“Where access to genetic resources in the world is discussed, the discussion is blocked because of DSI [informação de sequências digitais, na sigla em inglês]”, he evaluates, citing as an example cooperation treaties in the FAO (UN Organization for Food and Agriculture) and in the WHO (World Health Organization)which discusses facilitating cooperation to create vaccines.
“Unlocking the discussion here at COP15 can unlock it in all these other forums as well. They must adopt similar mechanisms, so that there is harmony”, completes Novion.
Former director of genetic heritage at the Ministry of the Environment, Novion was one of the formulators of the legislation that regulates the issue in the country and left office in the first week of Bolsonaro government🇧🇷 In October of this year, shortly after the presidential election resulthe was called upon by Itamaraty to provide technical support for the country’s positions on the subject at COP15 on biodiversity.
A Brazilian diplomacy At COP15, it implemented a model mirrored in Brazilian law, which managed to reduce bureaucracy in the benefit-sharing process by eliminating the need for prior authorization for research based on the use of biodiversity. In the global mechanism, users only need to communicate the use of biodiversity when there are results, just as it works today in Brazil.
Instead of prior consent, law 13.123/2015 requires a declaration at key stages of research development, such as publication, transport of genetic material or the economic result of a product —in the latter case, the law provides for payment of 1% of ‘royalties’, which go to the National Benefit Sharing Fund (FNRB).
The Brazilian law model changes the order of factors: it removes the obstacle of authorization from research, leaving the researchers’ obligation to the government for the moments when there is a result to be communicated.
“By Brazilian law, the concept of access is very broad: all research or technological development involving biodiversity, even if only theoretical, must be registered in the system”, says Francine Leal, director of the GSS consultancy, specialized in access to genetic heritage.
“On the other hand, the last link in the chain, the final product, only distributes benefits when the component [da biodiversidade] add value to the product, that is, when it is one of the main assets or has market appeal. In the end, few products end up sharing benefits”, she evaluates.
Since 2016, the FNRB has collected around BRL 5 million in biodiversity royalties and the equivalent of R$17 million invested directly by companies in conservation initiatives —the company gets a discount when choosing to be responsible for a project.
FNRB management was paralyzed during the Bolsonaro government, which extinguished councils whose participation in the fund was mandatory.
On the other hand, some projects financed directly by the companies that use biodiversity came to fruition at the end of the current administration. One of them releases royalties paid by Avon, because of the development of cosmetics from species of Brazilian biodiversity, destined to projects that encourage bioeconomy not pantal.
“In addition to the ordering of production [da castanha] from cumbaru, it has the aspect of restoration [após os incêndios de 2020]🇧🇷 We are going to work with the communities, including valuing traditional knowledge for the recovery of these areas”, says Cláudia de Pinho, coordinator of the Pantanal Traditional Communities Network, which was awarded funding for projects in two communities in the biome.
One of the demands of the traditional communities that participate in the management council of SisGen (National Genetic Heritage Management System) is that the percentage of royalties should be higher in cases of research carried out based on traditional knowledge associated with biodiversity —in this case, the Prior authorization is required by law.
“At the time the decree was created, we defended that 5% would be fair, not only for the distribution, but for the conservation and management of our territories”, says Cláudia, who also sits on the National Council of Traditional Peoples and Communities.