Digital Sequence Information and Benefit Sharing

  • 17 June 2019

ICC continues to contribute actively to discussions on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Nagoya Protocol (Protocol) implementation. This paper was published in response to CBD decision 14/20, paragraph 9, which invites parties and stakeholders to provide views and information on (i) relevant terminology and scope related to “Digital Sequence Information” (DSI) and (ii) benefit sharing from commercial and non-commercial use of DSI.

When the term “DSI” arose in CBD discussions, it was understood to refer to electronically stored and exchanged DNA sequence information. The content of the term has since expanded, and discussions on this subject matter are now confounded by multiple interpretations of it.

The term “DSI” has been qualified by many as being unclear and imprecise. The report of the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on DSI states that there is agreement that the term “DSI” is not apt and should be used as a mere placeholder. ICC agrees with the view that the term “DSI” is imprecise and not appropriate for the ongoing discussions.

ICC would like to propose instead the term “Genetic Resource Sequence Data” or “GRSD”, as a clearer, more scientifically-precise alternative which would be more appropriate for use in the discussions. ICC is proposing this term solely to facilitate a more fact- and science-based discussion on this subject matter.

Genetic Resource Sequence Data refers to the description of the order of nucleotides (DNA or RNA), as found in nature, in the genome or encoded by the genome of a given genetic resource. The “genome” includes nuclear and extra-nuclear DNA, and coding (gene) and non-coding DNA sequences. It does not include other molecules resulting from natural metabolic processes associated with or requiring the genetic resource.

ICC is proposing the term “Genetic Resource Sequence Data” to enable a more fact- and science-based discussion. This does not impact ICC’s position, as communicated in its previous submissions on DSI and in the joint statement by numerous stakeholder organisations on the need to maintain open exchange of DSI.

Under the existing CBD and Nagoya Protocol framework, benefit-sharing provisions relating to GRSD can already be included by provider countries in mutually agreed terms related to the utilisation of a specific genetic resource. However, the subject of obligations under a MAT should not include open-ended or ambiguous concepts such as “DSI”.

ICC wishes to emphasise that amending the scope of the CBD and the Nagoya Protocol to allow for the imposition of additional Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) obligations on access to and/or the use of GRSD2 – other than through the existing mechanism of mutually agreed terms – will have a significant negative impact on the future of biological research and the benefits resulting from it for society. Open access to and use of GRSD for advancing research and development creates huge benefits, from both commercial and non-commercial use, which help achieve the objectives of the CBD and the Nagoya Protocol.

In short, imposing ABS obligations on the access, use and/or dissemination of GRSD, other than through the existing mechanism of mutually agreed terms, would substantially jeopardise the creation and sharing of benefits, which contribute to achieving the objectives of the CBD and the Nagoya Protocol, and ultimately support managing some of society’s biggest challenges such as food security and human health.