Published November 1, 2001 | November 2001 issue
The role of national parks in scientific research has recently been called into question by some environmental and consumer groups.
For decades "bioprospectors," who work on behalf of commercial businesses, and research scientists have combed the flora and fauna of U.S. national parks for microbes and bacteria that could lead to new health and scientific products.
At issue are the potential effects on the environment from these pursuits and the value of royalties paid to the parks. Critics are concerned that profit-sharing between parks and companies would lead parks to compete for the research projects, thus distracting the parks from their basic role of protecting the natural environment.
A lawsuit filed over a contract between a developer of chemical and pharmaceutical products and Yellowstone Park led to a judge's decision to put such agreements on hold. Yellowstone was also ordered to conduct a study of how its resources would be affected.
At least 18 patents have resulted from research at Yellowstone Park alone, park officials said. One such research project earned $1 billion for the patent-holder, while the park received nothing.