SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL—When Carlos Jared tried to ship a jar of dead velvet worms collected in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest to a colleague in Germany in 2006, he had no plans to derive a drug or other product from the creatures. He just wanted to probe the reproductive system of a rare invertebrate that gives birth to live young. But Brazilian authorities denounced him as a “biopirate.”
The evolutionary biologist at the Instituto Butantan in São Paulo had run afoul of a law aiming to clamp down on what Brazil perceived as rampant pillaging of its biological resources. Jared hadn’t filled out all the paperwork required under law MP 2186, so the worms were confiscated. Worse was yet to come. “They dragged my name through the mud. It was a psychological massacre,” he says. It took him 6 years to get another permit for fieldwork, and he is still fighting in court thousands of dollars in fines.
Jared is not the only scientist to run afoul of draconian regulations, sometimes because of nothing more than a clerical oversight. “Biodiversity was deemed so valuable that nobody was allowed to research it anymore,” says Eduardo Pagani, drug development manager at the Brazilian Biosciences National Laboratory in Campinas. “They locked it in a safe and criminalized anyone who tried to work with it.”