Opinion of the French Academy of Sciences - Paris, April 9, 2021
The French Academy of Sciences has been informed of the plan of the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to discuss the different solutions aiming at applying (or not) the Access and Benefit Sharing mechanism (ABS, Nagoya Protocol) to sequence data from genetic resources (DSI for 'Digital Sequence Information') at the COP 15 in October 2021 in Kunming. ABS contributes to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and aims to ensure the equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, restoring fairness between providers and users of such resources and knowledge. DSI includes DNA and RNA sequences; depending on ongoing discussions on the definition and boundaries of DSI, it could also include protein structure and biochemical compounds. Currently, DSIs are not covered by the Nagoya Protocol and international public research produces, disseminates and uses them according to the two principles: "open access" and "FAIR" (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable). For more than two decades, FAIR access to genetic sequences has been made possible by the activity of the International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaboration (INSDC), which offers three entry points: the DNA DataBase of Japan (DDBJ) at the National Institute of Genetics in Mishima, Japan, the European Nucleotide Archive (ENA) at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, United Kingdom, and the GenBank at the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, USA. The principle of depositing genetic sequences at the INSDC is recognized by all internationally peer- reviewed journals as proof of the existence, quality and reproducibility of the data they publish. Furthermore, in the interest of individual or collective research requiring the knowledge of genetic sequences, the data associated with the corresponding work are deposited at the INSDC even outside of academic publications. Free access to these sequences is an essential condition for the progress of scientific knowledge.
The French Academy of Sciences wishes to alert the scientific community and all decision- making bodies to the fact that the application of ABS to molecular data from genetic resources, by putting a considerable impediment on their free and open access, would have a strong negative impact on all public research conducted in many scientific fields, carried out with this type of data. Moreover, the possibility of restricting free and open access to sequences would threaten an essential aspect of science, namely the reproducibility of studies.
The Academy of Sciences therefore hopes that France will defend the preservation of the current conditions of open science and FAIR in the upcoming negotiations. If returns to the countries of origin of part of the benefits derived from genetic resources are desired, they can be achieved through traceability of the origin of sequence data, which is already provided for in open access databases. With sufficient traceability made mandatory, the countries of origin of the resources could obtain a fair sharing of the commercial benefits without threatening academic science. In addition to depositing the sequences at the INSDC, the authors of the corresponding works can of course freely use them for the constitution of specialized databases for which they can restrain the use, but this cannot replace a public and free access deposit. The French Academy of Sciences therefore hopes that no barriers to the free and open dissemination of sequences and to the FAIR principles will apply to academic research, and that any regulations related to the application of the Nagoya Protocol will only apply to commercial development stages but not to the sequence repository stage.