New genetic data policy must share benefits equitably and promote biodiversity conservation. Scientists urge a sensible international policy solution for 'digital sequence information'
(Plentzia, 23 February 2022): In negotiations under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, agreements across socio-economic differences can be challenging to find. Members of the global scientific community, 41 researchers from 17 countries, have come together offering compromise in a new paper in the journal Nature Communications. The researchers explain why a policy solution on digital sequence information (DSI) is urgently needed and propose a mechanism that would support biodiversity conservation while also better sharing the benefits of DSI research. 

The authors suggest a policy mechanism that would create a positive feedback loop to incentivize countries to generate and share digital sequence information on their biodiversity, while distributing benefits from its use equitably. The authors argue that such a policy mechanism must be 'multilateral' to be successful, which means that nations around the world must cooperate and agree on common rules. The authors of this work also call on policymakers to engage with researchers in their countries who depend on access to DSI, so that any policy solution will not hinder crucial biodiversity research.

'Biodiversity is a natural reservoir on which our food and health security and a framework of well-being depends. Yet, it is threatened. To conserve it and stop losing it, open access to data for life scientists, coupled to fair and equitable benefit sharing of the advantages of its utilisation, should be the essence of a global policy solution', states Prof. Halima Benbouza, Director of the National Council of Scientific Research and Technologies in Algeria. 

There is widespread agreement that urgent international action is needed to stem the ongoing destruction of our planet’s biodiversity. Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are currently negotiating the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which will shape efforts to protect our planet for the coming decades. Disagreements, however, have arisen regarding how to treat data derived from genetic resources, known as 'digital sequence information' or 'DSI', in the new framework.

Scientists have a long and successful history of sharing DSI openly on the web. This culture of sharing is central to biodiversity research and has driven technological advances in fields as diverse as medicine, food security, and green energy production. Online databases contain DSI for many hundreds of thousands of organisms and grow each day. These widely-used resources support scientific reproducibility, transparency, and advancement. DSI sharing, for example, was crucial to the rapid development of SARS-CoV-2 tests and vaccines.

'Progress and science today are possible thanks to researchers standing on the shoulders of predecessor giants … and data! The Open DSI revolution, with its free flow of data across nations, has brought a democratization of scientific practice, allowing free access to genetic sequence information for biomedical research and biodiversity monitoring and protection', stresses Prof. Ibon Cancio from the Plentzia Marine Station (PiE-UPV/EHU), EMBRC Spain. 

About the authors

The authors of this paper are members of the DSI Scientific Network, a group of scientists from different countries and economic settings that share convergent points of view in the DSI debate, and who are joining their voices to argue for sensible policy solutions on this crucial issue.

Original publication

Scholz, A. H. et al. Multilateral benefit-sharing from digital sequence information will support both science and biodiversity conservation. Nature Communications (2022). 

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