Bringing access and benefit sharing into the digital age

Sylvain Aubry* (Corresponding Author), Christine Frison* (Corresponding Author), Jorge C. Medaglia, Emile Frison, Marcel Jaspars, Muriel Rabone, Aysegul Sirakaya, Devanshi Saxena, Esther van Zimmeren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
18 Downloads (Pure)


Societal Impact Statement Reading and writing DNA is now possible with an unprecedented speed and ease. To catch up with digitization of genetic resources, scientists need to join with all relevant stakeholders and design new global governance mechanisms for digital sequence information. We propose the establishment of a Multi-stakeholder Committee on the Governance of Digital Sequence Information (DSI). This multi-disciplinary body will be dedicated to mitigate governance issues associated with the digitization of genetic resources. Solving the DSI conundrum is sorely needed given the forthcoming multilateral meetings of the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) framework (the next CBD COP is scheduled in 2021) that are central to tackle the global loss of biodiversity, global warming, pandemic risk and food insecurity. Contemporary research is increasingly data-centric and the rise of genomics revolutionized our approach and use of genetic resources. However, genomics developed relatively independently from the international instruments on the conservation of biological diversity, in particular the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) framework. The legal and political status of Digital Sequence Information (DSI) derived from genetic resources emerged recently as a contentious point in the various ABS instruments dealing with genetic resources. In view of the multiple parallel and uncoordinated debates that occurred in various forums dealing with plants, animals, terrestrial, microbial, marine and agricultural biodiversity, we propose here to take a step back in the discussion. We argue that DSI should be considered as an overarching issue to be addressed through a coordinated and inclusive Multi-stakeholder Committee that would assess its position and role within the existing ABS regime complex. This Multi-stakeholder Committee on the Governance of Digital Sequence Information, that may run under the auspices of the United Nations, will be dedicated to mitigate global governance issues associated with the digitization of genetic resources. In this paper, we sketch this body as a transversal and inclusive tool to facilitate long-term coherence in all ABS policy forums.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-12
Number of pages8
JournalPlants people planet
Issue number1
Early online date21 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of their affiliated institutions. This work was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (#31003A_172977) and the Research Foundation (FWO) Flanders (grant n°12X8318N).


  • access and benefit sharing
  • biodiversity
  • committee
  • Digital Sequence Information (DSI)
  • genomics
  • plant genetic resources
  • Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA)


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