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Pronounced /ˈbaɪəˌpʌɪrəsi/Help with pronunciation

Some developing countries are unhappy about the activities of biotechnology firms from industrialised countries, whom they claim are searching out plants that give improved crop yields or which contain substances of pharmaceutical value. This process, called bioprospecting, is not necessarily a problem. The complaints arise when firms prospect without permission or expropriate the results of their investigations without payment or acknowledgement. There have been a series of disputes and accusations, for example against attempts in 1997 by an Australian governmental agency to patent a chickpea obtained from an international gene bank. The Brazilian government is debating a law to control companies prospecting for useful genetic material in the Amazonian rainforests. The word, as a reflection of the subject to which it relates, is an emotive one, and which is sometimes employed wildly. It is beginning to be used in contexts outside the developing world, for instance in a recent news story concerning an agreement by a bioprospecting company with the US National Park Service in Yellowstone.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 21 Feb. 1998

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 21 February 1998.