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University ends fight over biopirated fungi



   BRITAIN

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   University ends fight over fungi
   
   BY NICK NUTTALL, ENVIRONMENT CORRESPONDENT
   
   A BRITISH university that was accused of "biopiracy" after holding on
   to strains of Far Eastern fungi has agreed to return them.
   
   Portsmouth University, which has possibly the world's best collection
   of fungi, was given 200 specimens collected by a former scientific
   employee in Thailand five years ago.The Thai Government did not, at
   the time, have the advanced storage facilities needed to keep them at
   home. But earlier this year the Biotec Institute in Thailand requested
   their collection back after investing in special deep-freeze
   equipment.
   
   The fungi are considered valuable as possible sources of new cancer,
   herpes, malaria and tuberculosis drugs. But Portsmouth refused the
   request, saying there was no agreement to repatriate the strains and
   that there was confusion over the ownership.
   
   The row triggered an international wrangle with British scientists
   working for the Thai institute accusing the university of theft and
   breaking agreements on biodiversity agreed in Rio in 1992.
   
   The British Council was lobbied in Thailand and the institute there
   threatened legal action against Britain.
   
   Yesterday, however, Sakarin Bhumirattana, head of the National Centre
   for Genetic Engineering (Biotech), said they had been told that the
   fungi were coming home. "This is very good news," he said.