Horses as Sources of Proprietary Information: Commercialization, Conservation, and Compensation Pursuant to the Convention on Biological Diversity
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Horses indigenous to East and Southeast (E/SE) Asia, including native, landrace, feral, and wild populations, embody valuable genetic diversity. Conservation efforts for animals have largely been driven by humane altruism, with little consideration for the information value of genomes. Yet, if horses are viewed as archives of information as well as objects of affection, their conservation shifts to a market-based paradigm. Horse genetic resources (GR) likely contain significant value to the lucrative global horse industry, including veterinary applications such as diagnostics, therapeutics, genetic markers, gene therapies, and cloning technologies. As biotechnology becomes increasingly sophisticated, mining of horse GR will accelerate, thus facilitat- ing identification, inventorying, bioprospecting, and commercialization of genetic information. Yet, establishing a value chain that balances equitable compensation for commercial applications while promoting conservation of horse populations remains a challenge. Recommendations presented here include establishing regional and national human resource and institutional capacity (competent national authorities), that catalog eco-geographical inventories of horse GR; monitor, manage, market and direct equitable value chains from horse to genetic information to commercial products; and ensure revenue flow back to support conservation. This system will foster market incentives to build capacity for sustainable conservation of the diverse horse populations of E/SE Asia.