Diversa-UNAM bioprospecting agreement

by GRAIN | 7 Nov 1998
TITLE: Diversa signs bioprospecting agreement with the Institute of Biotechnology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico PUBLICATION: BusinessWire: HealthWire DATE: 6 November 1998


SAN DIEGO (BW HealthWire) - Diversa Corp. today announced that it has signed a three-year bioprospecting agreement with the Institute of Biotechnology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

Under the agreement, Diversa will receive samples collected by UNAM scientists from Mexico's diverse habitats, including its tropical jungles, deserts, volcanoes and geothermal sites. Using its proprietary technology, Diversa scientists will access the genomes of uncultured organisms living in these samples to identify novel compounds that could benefit mankind, according to Terrance J. Bruggeman, chief executive officer of Diversa.

"Over the next three years, scientists at Diversa and UNAM will be able to make a significant contribution to the understanding of the microbial diversity existing in Mexico's various habitats," Bruggeman said. "Less than one percent of all the microorganisms in our world have been identified. Yet from that small percentage, scientists have developed a large number of important drugs and industrial products that have changed the world we live in. By searching the 99% of the microbial world that is still unknown, we're hoping to identify compounds that will be useful to pharmaceutical, agriculture and industrial companies."

Mexico is a unique environment with 34 ecoclines compared to four in the continental United States. While the country possesses only 1.3% of the world's land area, it contains 14.4% of the world's plant species.

Under the agreement, Diversa will provide training and equipment to UNAM scientists enabling them to collect and isolate environmental samples taken from various habitats in Mexico. In exchange, Diversa will provide UNAM with royalties on any commercial products that it develops from compounds identified from these samples.

Diversa will also assist UNAM in setting up a center for microbial diversity studies on UNAM's Instituto de Biotechnologia campus in Cuernavaca, Mexico, a mountainous region 100 miles south of Mexico City. This will be the first such center in Mexico.

"When I heard about Diversa's interest in collecting microbial samples in Mexico I became very interested because I saw a great opportunity for collaborative work," said Dr. Xavier Soberon, director of the Institute of Biotechnology at UNAM. "From the first meetings, which also involved the advice of CONABIO (the Mexican Council for the knowledge and use of biodiversity), we realized that we could work towards an agreement that was fully compliant with Mexican Law and international treatises, based on the attitude of the company and their previous track record. They were also doing terrific science and we decided that the proper way to work an agreement would be to have technology transferred to the National University and royalties directed toward the preservation of protected areas."

"Mexico is a biological paradise possessing enormous natural diversity," said Eric Mathur, director molecular diversity at Diversa. "The complex topography of Mexico encompasses a wide range of ecosystems, with the microbial diversity existing there virtually unexplored and therefore of keen interest to our enzyme and drug discovery programs. Together with scientists from UNAM, we will be able to catalogue the abundant variety of microorganisms residing in these environments."

"To access the broad range of biomolecular diversity inherent in the microbial world, Diversa scientists focus on the cloning and expressing of genes recovered from DNA purified directly from environmental samples, thus bypassing the need for any cultivation of microbes," explained Dr. Jay M. Short, president and chief technology officer of Diversa. "As a result, the samples needed are very small and only have to be collected once. Diversa's proprietary technologies enable its scientists to rapidly clone, express and sequence genes encoding targeted compounds at unprecedented rates. For example, since the company was founded in 1994, Diversa scientists have identified over 700 novel (patent-pending) enzymes -- almost twice the total number commercially available today."

Diversa has signed several other similar agreements including Costa Rica (1995 - 2001), Iceland (1995 - 1998), Yellowstone National Park (1997 - 2002), and most recently Indonesia (1997 - 2000).

The Institute of Biotechnology, part of the National University of Mexico's research sector is a prestigious organization conducting research in a variety of fields in the biological sciences, including molecular microbiology, structural biology, plant science, molecular genetics and bioengineering. It has been a leader in the use and development of recombinant-DNA methodologies and will be interacting with Diversa's scientists on a peer to peer basis.

Diversa is a biotechnology company focused on globally accessing microbial diversity and using this untapped resource for discovering compounds which will benefit pharmaceutical, agricultural, and specialty chemical industries. The company's bank of environmental libraries contains the largest, most diverse repository of microbial genomes in the world covering over one million different microbes. It currently has customers worldwide and has entered into four strategic alliances: Dow Chemical Co., Finnfeeds, Roche BioScience (a Roche Holdings Co.), and Sigma-Aldrich Co.

Author: GRAIN