Biopiracy row over Kenyan lake bacteria
A Kenyan government agency has launched a bid for a share of profits from a biotechnology company that produces chemicals used to soften and fade denim jeans. According to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the chemicals, manufactured by the US-based Genencor, were initially derived from bacteria taken from Kenyan lakes without the appropriate permission.
The chemicals are produced by two species of 'extremophile' bacteria that inhabit the highly alkaline Lake Bogoria and Lake Nakuru, where conditions are similar to those in a hot, soapy washing machine. A microbiologist from the UK's University of Leicester discovered the bacteria in the lakes in 1992. Genencor later patented the chemicals and mass-produced them by cloning the bacteria.
The KWS claims it was not notified of the research and that the bacteria were collected without the necessary permits from Kenya's Ministry of Education. But Genencor says another Kenyan authority, the National Council for Science and Technology, had given its approval to the research.