The Cuatro Ciénegas basin lies in the desert of northern Mexico and is home to some of the oldest organisms on Earth. This desert contains living stromatolites — cyanobacterial colonies similar to some of the earliest life on Earth, and more than 70 endemic aquatic species.
Although the Mexican government designated a reserve of 850 square kilometers in the area, where fishing is prohibited, the basin is quickly losing water due to local extraction and other human activity.
In an effort to save the basin, Valeria Souza, a molecular biologist at the Autonomous National University of Mexico in Mexico City has decided to try a new conservation approach. In accordance with the future Nagoya Protocol — a deal that regulates scientific access to genetic resources and the distribution of research profits to local communities — Souza attained a permit from the federal government that allows her to commercialize useful genes she finds in the region, enabling communities to become part of the restoration process.
Some of the promising samples include a gene that allows the breakdown of complex organic compounds, and another that enables the use of phosphorus forms.
Out of the eight communal land divisions in the Cuatro Ciénegas region, six have agreed to let her take microbial samples in exchange for future financial compensation. Although the profit percentage returned to communities is undecided, Souza hopes that sharing profits with the locals will encourage them to restore and maintain the water basin instead of using it for ranching and farming.
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