The New York Times has an interesting story today about the scientific discoveries that have turned our public resources into handsome sources of private profits.

Highlighting research done at Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, the Times says that discoveries at the park have helped some companies make millions – though the park hasn’t seen any of the windfall.

In the 1980s, a researcher at the Cetus Corporation named Kary Mullis was searching for a way to speed the replication of DNA. Enzymes used to amplify the genetic code broke down when they were heated. Dr. Mullis had the idea of using a heat-resistant enzyme called Taq polymerase, which made DNA amplification a central tool in genetic research, earned him a Nobel Prize and generated hundreds of millions of dollars in sales.

The reason the enzyme was heat-tolerant is that it came from a bacterium called Thermus aquaticus that lived in the simmering waters of Mushroom Pool here. Taq, as it came to be known, was first identified in 1966. But despite how spectacularly useful it has turned out to be, no royalties have gone to Yellowstone or the National Park Service.

Could that be on the verge of changing? The Times takes a look. It’s worth a read – at least for the gorgeous photo of the snow-blanketed park basking beneath slate-gray winter clouds.

For our look at the private pressures facing local state parks, check out this story.


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