Biological prospecting (bioprospecting) is the exploration of natural areas in search of native organisms that can be used in commercial products ranging from pharmaceutical and medical technologies to cosmetics and personal care.

Biological prospecting in Antarctica is a complex issue that encompasses scientific and commercial interests, environmental concerns, ethics and equity. It requires considerations relating to international law and policy, including the adequacy of the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) to address and regulate bioprospecting, and protect fragile Antarctic ecosystems.

Bioprospecting in Antarctica has already led to several European and U.S patents. In 1997, an extract of a strain of Antarctic black yeast with anti-tumor properties was patented in Russia, and in 2002 an extract from a species of Antarctic green algae was patented in Germany for use in cosmetic skin treatment. These are only two examples of a much larger phenomenon.

The continued pursuit of rare Antarctic organisms to develop commercial products may become a threat towards the fragile ecosystem and the organisms that live in Antarctica’s terrestrial, marine and inland water biomes.

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