Praveen Rahi spent the better part of the past 3 years identifying and describing a new species of a nitrogen-fixing bacteria he discovered on peas cultivated in the mountains of northern India. But it could take years for Rahi, a microbial ecologist at India’s National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS), to get the new species validated and officially named—if he doesn’t get scooped.
Syed Dastager, a microbiologist at the country’s National Chemical Laboratory, faces a similar problem. He says he has discovered 30 new microbial species over the past several years, but they all sit in his laboratory freezer, unknown to the world, because he can’t publish about them.
These scientists, like many others, are caught in a strange bureaucratic limbo between India’s stringent biodiversity protection laws and the rules of the International Committee on Systematics of Prokaryotes (ICSP), which validates newly discovered microbes. “As a country, we now face the prospect of losing the claim to document bacterial diversity from India,” Yogesh Shouche, a microbial taxonomist at NCCS, wrote in an editorial in Current Science last month that called attention to the problem.