Bioprospecting: Delayed ... or Dead?

A federal judge has ruled that the National Park Service must complete an environmental review before it can move ahead with a controversial bioprospecting contract. Government analysts say the ruling is a temporary setback for the precedent-setting deal, which allows Diversa, a San Diego biotechnology firm, to harvest plants and microbes from the park's hot springs in exchange for a $175,000 payment and royalties on any products it develops (Science, 13 March 1998, p. 1624). But one plaintiff's attorney believes the decision--handed down last week by Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.--is a death knell for any arrangement of this kind because Lamberth cast doubt on the government's claim that parks are "outdoor laboratories" available for commercial research. A coalition of nonprofits will soon be back in court seeking to ban such deals outright, promises Andrew Kimbrell of the Washington-based International Center for Technology Assessment. Unless Congress changes the law, he asserts, federal parks should remain off limits to profit-driven bioprospectors.