Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 16, Issue 10, pp 2789–2800 | Cite as

Linking bioprospecting with sustainable development and conservation: the Panama case

  • Thomas A. KursarEmail author
  • Catherina C. Caballero-George
  • Todd L. Capson
  • Luis Cubilla-Rios
  • William H. Gerwick
  • Maria V. Heller
  • Alicia Ibañez
  • Roger G. Linington
  • Kerry L. McPhail
  • Eduardo Ortega-Barría
  • Luz I. Romero
  • P. D. Coley
Original Paper


The limited international resources for economic aid and conservation can only mitigate poverty and losses of biodiversity. Hence, developing nations must establish the capacity to resolve their problems. Additionally, policy-makers and donors need to obtain scientific input on issues such as global change and ecosystem services. We propose that for nations rich in biodiversity, ecosystem services derived from bioprospecting, or drug discovery, could contribute to economic development. In the case where unstudied samples are shipped abroad for research, the chances of obtaining royalties are infinitesimally small. Therefore developing nations will only realize benefits from bioprospecting through in-country research on their own biodiversity. Policy-makers and donors have failed to appreciate the value of this approach. In order to provide an example of the inherent links between conservation and sustainable economic development, we initiated a drug discovery effort in Panama that emphasizes local benefit. As much of the drug discovery process as possible is conducted in Panamanian laboratories, providing jobs dependent on intact biodiversity and enhancing local research and training. In short, research, plus the spin-offs from research, provide immediate and long-lasting benefits to Panama. The connection between conservation and development has been highlighted in publicity about the project in Panama’s urban media. This provides a constructive alternative to the perception the among the urban populace that economic development inevitably competes with conservation. In summary, our program uses biodiversity to promote human health as well as to support research capacity, economic development and conservation within Panama. The program provides an example of the widely recognized but little developed concept of bioprospecting research as an ecosystem service.


Bioprospecting Chagas’ disease Convention on biological diversity Ecosystem services ICBG Leishmaniasis Malaria Panama Policy-makers Sustainable development 



The project was supported by funds from NIH, NSF and USDA, grant number 5 U01 TW06634–01 and STRI. Among those who have made key contributions to the Panama ICBG we acknowledge Mirei Endara, Rodrigo Tarte, Elena Lombardo, Ira Rubinoff, Eldredge Bermingham, Joshua Rosenthal, Flora Katz, Yali Hallock, Mahabir Gupta and Pablo Solis. We also acknowledge the dedicated employees of Panama’s Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente and the researchers and administrators of the University of Panama and SENACYT.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas A. Kursar
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Catherina C. Caballero-George
    • 2
  • Todd L. Capson
    • 2
  • Luis Cubilla-Rios
    • 3
  • William H. Gerwick
    • 2
    • 4
  • Maria V. Heller
    • 2
    • 7
  • Alicia Ibañez
    • 2
  • Roger G. Linington
    • 4
    • 5
  • Kerry L. McPhail
    • 6
  • Eduardo Ortega-Barría
    • 5
  • Luz I. Romero
    • 5
  • P. D. Coley
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  2. 2.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstitutePanama CityRepublic of Panama
  3. 3.Department of ChemistryUniversity of PanamaPanama CityRepublic of Panama
  4. 4.Scripps Institution of OceanographyLa JollaUSA
  5. 5.Institute of Advanced Scientific Research and High TechnologyPanama CityRepublic of Panama
  6. 6.College of PharmacyOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  7. 7.Secretaría Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (SENACYT)Clayton, AnconRepublic of Panama

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