What's the new frontier for adventurous explorers? Bioprospecting. Short for biodiversity prospecting, it's the exploration of wild plants and animals for commercially valuable genetic and biochemical resources.

Much of the exploration takes place in nature's most extreme settings, volcanoes, deep under the sea or in remote jungles. The prospectors are looking for places where bacteria thrive under extreme conditions like highheat, or super cold.

Samples from these environments are taken back to the lab and studied to see what kind of work the microorganisms and bacteria are capable of.

What's that got to do with genetic engineering? Through the use of recombinant DNA techniques, genes from any plant or animal can be transferred to another. By discovering the capabilities of organisms found through bioprospecting, the genes can be engineered into other organisms and used for new industrial applications such as mining, wastewater treatment, and carbon-dioxide scrubbing. Pharmaceutical companies and pesticide producers are also very interested in replicating the natural abilities of organisms found through bioprospecting.

Find out more about some specific organisms discovered by bioprospecting.

Source: World Resources Institute. "Questions and Answers About 'Bioprospecting.'" (Online.) September 2002.

Explore More: Genetic Engineering
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
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