Conference Focuses On Biotech Industry

Valtcho Jeliazkov, background, director of the University of Wyoming's Ag Experiment Station at Wyarno, shows Biotech Conference attendees through the greenhouse at Sheridan College. (Pat Blair Photo)

Nearly 40 people attended a two-day conference at Sheridan College last week focusing on emerging issues in the biotechnology industry and how those issues can affect our lives.

Presentations included a keynote speech Thursday on the intellectual property ownership of genetically modified organisms. Issues Friday included discussions on the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity and its implications for the livestock industry.

This was the third year for the conference in Sheridan. It was hosted by Forward Sheridan. Executive Director Jay Stender explains the goal of the event.

During Friday's opening session, Harvey D. Blackburn, an animal geneticist and coordinator of the National Animal Germplasm Program, said the Convention on Biological Diversity is a global attempt to use the world's biological diversity in a sustainable way.

He said there has been a perception among some undeveloped countries that they have not received fair value from developed countries that use their biological resources. Efforts to resolve the matter through official measures such as the Nagoya Protocol have raised other issues.

Biological resources include microscopic plants and animals, plants including medicinal and agricultural crops, animal breed or materials derived from them.

The protocol is scheduled to go into effect in 2014 after ratification by some 151 countries. Eric Welch, associate professor at the University of Chicago, said governments have already started developing bureaucracies to manage requests for genetic resources under the protocol, and said there is a danger of “oversteer” in implementing it.

The United States has not yet ratified the protocol. Welch said one reason for that is the protocol's one-size-fits-all approach and how the protocol might effect the current practices of sharing genetic materials informally among governments, universities and biotech industries.

The conference ended late Friday morning with a tour of Sheridan College's greenhouse and Watt Ag Center, followed by lunch at the home of Neltje, a Sheridan rancher, entrepreneur, business woman and community developer.

Forward Sheridan is Sheridan County's economic development organization