Arts, Culture & Media

Amazon bio-piracy

JJ says the story begins in 1796 with a British adventurer: he was unsuccessful except for this one theft. He started in Nicaragua trying to collect feathers. Then he returned and he had the idea that he was going to make himself rich as a planner somehow and he would eventually float down to the Amazon. Then he happened upon rubber for the first time and wrote a book about it which came to the attention of Cue Gardens in Britain. (And then the Cue Gardens hired him?) Yes, the British Empire realized rubber was an essential part for its growth as an empire. So by the 1850s, they thought they could take rubber from the Amazon and plant it in India, then the seeds would be theirs. But the seeds were prone to rot during the long trip so different adventurers would try to bring the seeds across. (So then this adventurer brings the things back to Britain and they germinate and what did that set off in motion?) They let the seedlings grow a tiny bit and then they set them to Singapore and that area and by the time the bicycle and automobile came into production, the British owned the rights to the highest grade rubber in the world so they had the world market. (Does every British child know a version of this adventurer's story?) They seem to. (What are some modern examples of threats of bio-piracy in the Amazon region?) There was one last year of an isolated Indian tribe in the Amazon region which had been selling blood samples to American firms for several years because the firm could trace the DNA and analyze for immunity to biological disease, etc. then they learned the samples were being sold to universities and other research companies for $85 a vial. (Some say the Brazilian government is exaggerating claims of bio-piracy so they can get the leg up. What side is the Brazilian government on?) Much of what you see in the Amazon is very fuzzy because a lot of people who have been arrested are scientists trying to save the Amazon. But because of this history of bio-piracy, these people don't want to let anything go.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

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