News FocusBhutan

Improbable Partners Aim to Bring Biotechnology to a Himalayan Kingdom

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Science  19 Feb 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5968, pp. 940-941
DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5968.940

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British mycologist Nigel Hywel-Jones is serving as an adviser to Bhutan Pharmaceuticals Private Ltd., a company founded by local entrepreneur Wangdi Jamyang. Besides prospecting for fungi that attack insects and culturing isolates that may have medicinal value, Hywel-Jones is crafting a business model for biotech in the kingdom. There is no dearth of raw materials. Bhutan's highlands are a prime habitat for at least one prized commodity: an insect fungus, Cordyceps sinensis, that fetches outrageous prices as a Chinese medicine. Hywel-Jones believes that Bhutan, a biodiversity hot spot, may harbor a wealth of novel compounds for Western medicine, too. But the duo insists that they are not embarking on a biological Gold Rush. Wangdi emphasizes that their activities will be guided by a Buddhist reverence for the environment enshrined in Bhutan's 2008 constitution, which calls for preserving 65% of the country as forest.