How to be taxonomist in a non-taxonomic world?

Doug Yanega dyanega at MONO.ICB.UFMG.BR
Fri Jan 29 14:09:43 CST 1999

Peter Rauch wrote (among other things which I tend to agree with):

>--people are too busy making a buck raping the
>planet. Who needs a taxonomist to assit in doing that?

The pharmaceutical industry? The agribusiness people? The materials engineers?

Certainly there are more, but it seems that these and others don't fully
realize the potential yet to be tapped. Before a recent flight home, I was
talking to a materials engineer waiting for a different plane, who had come
to Brazil to look into interesting plant fibers. When I described to him
how many insect and arachnids there were in Brazil that produced some form
of silk, of an incredible variety of types, it was as if he'd never even
considered the possibility that insects might produce fibers (duh). It's
like they have blinders on or something. The pharmaceutical companies, for
instance, are almost entirely focused on plants. Why? The array of
chemicals produced by the average insect is also pretty staggering, after
all. What I might suggest is that we're dealing with a vicious circle, in
some respects. If a pharmco decides they want to do some "prospecting",
they're going to want to work with taxa that they have a decent chance of
getting identified. If they perceive insects as a hopeless morass of
impossible-to-identify species, then they're going to avoid investing in
insect-focused research, don't you think? Voila, the vicious circle.
        Are we really going to have to send Tom Eisner to pound on the
doors of every company in the world making a sales pitch, before someone
gets the idea?



Doug Yanega    Depto. de Biologia Geral, Instituto de Ciencias Biologicas,
Univ. Fed. de Minas Gerais, Cx.P. 486, 30.161-970 Belo Horizonte, MG   BRAZIL
phone: 31-499-2579, fax: 31-499-2567  (from U.S., prefix 011-55)
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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