Sharing benefits of digitized DNA
Today, scientists can sift through quadrillions of genetic sequences in open-access databases, searching (free-of-charge) for new ways to engineer crops, develop medicines or even create synthetic organisms. But a controversial proposal that aims to share the benefits of digitized DNA could affect scientists' ability to use these data, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN).
In late November, representatives from 110 countries will meet in Egypt to consider whether genetic data should be subject to the Nagoya Protocol. This international agreement, ratified in 2010, was designed to combat biopiracy by requiring users of genetic resources to obtain consent from and share benefits with the country of origin. However, until now the Nagoya Protocol has applied only to biological material, such as the leaves or roots of plants, and not to digitized DNA sequences, writes Senior Correspondent Cheryl Hogue. If the proposed changes to the pact are approved, scientists might have to pay fees to donor countries for commercial products developed from the genetic sequences.
Applying the Nagoya Protocol to genetic resources is controversial. Proponents, many from developing countries, argue that the change will provide financial incentives to conserve biodiversity. On the other hand, many industry and academic groups argue that barring access to genetic sequence information would discourage innovation, hinder R&D and even endanger public health by increasing the cost and time to bring therapeutic drugs and vaccines to market. Some are hoping for a compromise that will provide financial benefits to donor countries for conserving biodiversity, while also minimizing costs for users of the genetic data.