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From Whales to Urchins to Algae

Delegates at the United Nations have been discussing a legal framework to govern the genetic resources of the deep sea, the New York Times reports. The world's oceans, it notes, fall outside the control of any one country.

In June, researchers reported in Science Advances that nearly 13,000 genetic sequences from 862 marine species were associated with patents with international protection and that nearly half of these patents were registered to the chemical manufacturer BASF.

Many of these patents, the Times notes, cover genes from extremophiles, such as Alvinella pompejana, which can survive at temperatures others find inhospitable. But it adds that most countries don't allow "products of nature" to be patented, though synthetic ones can be. Some patent-holders hope to uncover new cancer treatments, while others want to find the "next Botox," the Times adds.

The Science Advances article, though, noted that three-quarters of patents are held by entities in Germany, the US, and Japan, and the Times adds that companies in 10 highly developed countries own 98 percent of the patents. This, it says, has led policymakers to be concerned that the lack of representation by developing nations will lead to global inequality.