The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Nagoya Protocol (NP) are multilateral agreements aimed at conserving biodiversity, promoting sustainable use of biological components, and facilitating the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from genetic resources. Although widely considered to be born of good intentions, the access and benefit sharing (ABS) framework introduced under these agreements have been criticized for introducing bureaucratic hurdles to effective biodiversity conservation and other scientific endeavors, such as responding to infectious disease outbreaks. A recent debate that has elevated concerns among the international scientific community focuses on whether ABS agreements should be expanded to explicitly incorporate digital sequence information (DSI)—a foundational component of many areas of biological research, including biodiversity conservation and biotech innovation.
In a recent BioScience Viewpoint, Rebecca A. Adler Miserendino, from Lewis Burke Associates, in Washington, DC, and a group of coauthors who organized a recent workshop series on this topic led by AIBS and funded by the National Science Foundation, discuss recent developments and provide community-generated recommendations for enabling effective ABS mechanisms related to DSI.
DSI, say the authors, is presently a contentious topic, with questions arising about what it includes and whether it should be covered under the CBD and NP—as well as concerns about the possible implications of its regulation under existing policy frameworks.
The authors call for policies that will preserve open access to DSI, enable international collaboration, be practical, efficient and cost effective to implement, ensure legal certainty, and account for both monetary and non-monetary benefits. Failing to do so, they say, may hamper science’s ability to address grave threats to humanity, including biodiversity loss, food security, and global health.