Commercialising natural resources found in a protected region in Mexico could test the Nagoya treaty on biodiversity while helping to protect a unique gene pool.
The springs and pools of the Cuatro Ciénegas region host organisms similar to some of the earliest life on Earth –– parts of the 40 kilometre basin may have existed for tens of thousands of years.
However groundwater extraction for farming threatens its existence, Valeria Souza, molecular biologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico told Nature.
Without local communities' involvement in conserving the water, instead of depleting it, it may not last another five years.
Souza obtained a permit from the Mexican government to commercialise useful genes found in the region, such as one that allows plants to use forms of phosphorous which are not usually available to them. This could help create plants able to thrive without fertiliser.
It is an important test for how the Nagoya Protocol — still waiting to be ratified — might work out in a real-life setting.
The Protocol signed at the Convention on Biological Diversity summit in Nagoya, Japan, last October, regulates scientific access to genetic resources and the equitable distribution of profits from such research to local populations and indigenous communities.
Souza said: "Without it [the protocol], I could not guarantee that money would return to Cuatro on anything other than the good faith of researchers coming to the region."