Researcher Russell Kerr is negotiating a profit-sharing deal with the Inuit living in Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost territory. Kerr, a chemistry professor at the University of Prince Edward Island, hopes to discover bacteria hidden in the mud of Frobisher Bay that can be used in commercial products like cosmetics or life-saving medicine.
Nothing is guaranteed, but an organism used in cosmetics could be worth tens of thousands of dollars. On the other hand, Kerr says, “At the upper end of the range, which is a real long shot, a cancer drug can generate billions of dollars.”
Kerr’s approach, which is “precedent-setting,” according to Jamal Shirley of the Nunavut Research Institute, could change how bioprospecting is done in the Arctic, where governments and the UN have been carefully watching the effects of climate change for years. In the upcoming issue of Americas Quarterly, to be released next Thursday, July 29, veteran journalist and AQ contributing blogger Huguette Young explores the geopolitics of the Arctic as melting land and sea transform the region’s geography and ecology.