The Amazonian giant leaf frog, or kambô (Phyllomedusa bicolor) has bulging eyes and bright green skin, and despite its name, is actually quite small. It’s perhaps best known for its skin secretion, a mucous substance with medicinal properties that several Amazonian Indigenous groups have used for centuries — and which is also attracting the attention of foreign biopharmaceutical companies.
A recent study by Marcos Vinício Chein Feres, a law professor at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora (UFJF) in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state, highlights the case of the kambô frog to illustrate a complex issue: the appropriation by companies in the Global North, through the patent rights system, of the associated traditional knowledge (ATK) that Indigenous peoples in the Global South have acquired over generations.
As a starting point, Feres said, it was important to understand “not only the chemical properties of the frog’s secretion, but also the traditional uses practiced by the Indigenous people.”
After reviewing the scientific literature on P. bicolor, Feres concluded that at least 15 Indigenous groups use the frog’s secretion for its analgesic, antibiotic and wound-healing properties, according to the study.
He then looked through patent records, and found 11 patents that had been granted specifically in connection with P. bicolor — all of them in countries of the Global North, including the U.S., Canada, Japan, France and Russia.
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