Biopiracy

June 7th, 2022 by Helena Rydén
Zingiber officinale, an example of a medicinal plant used in multiple cultures

Zingiber officinale, an example of a medicinal plant used in multiple cultures

Biopiracy is a term that describes the extraction and use of traditional knowledge and genetic resources to be used in research as well as in the development of commercial products when this extraction is made without taking into consideration national legislation of the country of origin but also the rights of indigenous communities. Typically biopiracy does not provide any sharing of the benefits between countries (and communities) of origin and entities exploiting it.

The inventions that are the result of biopiracy are very often protected by patents, making it impossible even for the original holders of the genetic resources to exploit them commercially. Zingiber officinale is an illustrative example. This is a plant found in India and South China. The English botanist William Roscoe gave the plant the name ‘ Zingiber officinale in 1807.

In fact recent biotechnological research related to ginger some new ingredients were obtained, such as zingerone, shogaol, and paradol. Zingerone (4-(4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl)-2-butanone) is in fact a nontoxic and inexpensive compound with varied pharmacological activities.

Zingerone was first isolated from the ginger root in 1917 by Hiroshi Nomura, a chemistry professor at Tokyo Imperial University. Zingerone is absent in fresh ginger but cooking or heating transforms gingerol to zingerone. Zingerone is closely related to vanillin from vanilla and Zingiber officinale, an example of a medicinal plant used in multiple cultures

eugenol from clove. Zingerone has potent anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, antilipolytic, antidiarrhoeic, antispasmodic properties. Furthermore, it displays the property of enhancing growth and immune stimulation. It behaves as appetite stimulant, anxiolytic, antithrombotic, radiation protective, and antimicrobial. Also, it inhibits the reactive nitrogen species which are important in causing Alzheimer’s disease and many other disorders. To say the least, this is an ingredient with numerous pharmaceutical applications of major importance. Some of them are obviously also applications with lucrative commercial exploitation potential.

While this is a plant found and commonly used in Kerala, Andhia Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Maharashtra, for its medicinal properties, the patent rights to be granted to the inventions, that are the results of modern research will be granted to the private companies and research institutes of the past. The communities that have developed the traditional knowedge on which modern research has built upon, and the countries of origin will not receive any benefits from the commercial applications of the modern re-packaging of this well-known traditional medicinal plant.

 

Frantzeska Papadopoulou

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