Scale and sustainability of marine bioprospecting for pharmaceuticals

Collecting marine organisms for the discovery and development of pharmaceuticals has been perceived variously as sustaining and threatening conservation. Our initial expectations that marine bioprospecting might pose conservation challenges were largely not confirmed.

Thousands of marine species have been collected for initial assessment, but usually only in very small amounts. Very few compounds are sufficiently promising to provoke re-collections, where volumes can be much larger. This is where conservation concerns may arise, particularly if the organism is rare, has a restricted distribution, or is targeted in one narrow area. However, industry generally seeks to avoid dependency on small populations, for economic as well as ecological reasons.

Alternative supply strategies to wild capture include synthesis and culture. Mandatory collection protocols and environmental impact (stock) assessments are useful routes for management to achieve sustainable use where extraction is desirable. In general, the scanty information available suggests that marine bioprospecting for pharmaceuticals may have minimal impacts on the environment, particularly compared with those created by other pressures.

Hunt, B. & A.C.J. Vincent (2006). Scale and sustainability of marine bioprospecting for pharmaceuticals. AMBIO 35(2):57-64.[57:SASOMB]2.0.CO;2