Scientists plea for open access and unrestricted exchange of digital sequence information


The two authors welcome the principles underlying the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its Nagoya Protocol (NP) as laudable, since both underscore that access to genetic resources (e.g. biological material) should also address the issues of equity. However, – they add – with the third CBD objective of ABS making a slip, it is becoming evident that the CBD and NP may not be able to address the issues of equity raised by developing countries at the Earth Summit in 1992, which ultimately culminated in a nationalization of genetic resources. The consequences of such actions on biodiversity research and food security are being overlooked. The principal victim of these legislative actions is biodiversity research that includes inventories and international collaborations as its core. 

Rajan and Prathapan further argue that theses restrictions, apart from curtailing research and development, run counter to the objectives of the CBD. Enormous amounts of biological data, including Digital Sequence Information (DSI), are increasingly being published via the database portals of the International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaboration (INSDC). The unlimited and open access of digital sequence information encourages collaboration among researchers besides enabling conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. As access to DSI is coming to the center stage of negotiations in the forthcoming 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 14) to the CBD, the global research community is increasingly concerned about restriction to the free flow of information, which is essential for the advancement of science.

The authors perceive the multilateral system (MLS) established under the Plant Treaty (ITPGRFA) as a very successful model in terms of volume of material exchanged (8500 transfers every week), in contrast to the very limited performance of the bilateral system of CBD and its Nagoya Protocol. They believe that the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), popularly known as the plant treaty provides a promising model for international collaboration on biodiversity research.

IISD SDG Knowledge Hub, guest article by Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan (Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment ATREE, Bangalore, India), and Kaniyarikkal Divakaran Prathapan (Kerala Agricultural University, Kerala, India).

The IISD's SDG Knowledge Hub is a knowledgebase tracking implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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See also an additional publication co-authored by 172 concerned scientists that appeared in the Science journal in 2018:

When the cure kills—CBD limits biodiversity research. National laws fearing biopiracy squelch taxonomy studies
K. Divakaran Prathapan, Rohan Pethiyagoda, Kamaljit S. Bawa, Peter H. Raven, Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan and 172 co-signatories from 35 countries
Science 360 (6396), 1405-1406. DOI: 10.1126/science.aat9844