Leopoldina advocates free access to gene databases for researchers
Genetic information can be rapidly decoded using high-throughput methods and made available in openly accessible Digital Sequence Information (DSI) databases. This genetic information is used for comparative analyses and is indispensable for life sciences research. Examples include the research on biodiversity and antibiotics. In the course of implementing the Nagoya Protocol, there is currently a discussion about equitable international sharing of economic benefits arising from such data use. Access restrictions or payment of fees are being discussed.
In its ad hoc statement „Maintaining open access to Digital Sequence Information – Multilateral Benefit Sharing and Open Science“ published today, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina points out that restrictions would have a seriously detrimental effect on research as well as biodiversity conservation.
To enable free research worldwide, DSI databases must continue to be openly accessible, states the Leopoldina in its ad hoc statement. The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly shown that the exchange of sequence information, in this case of novel pathogens, contributes significantly to scientific progress. In addition, DSI databases are a key tool for biodiversity conservation because, for example, changes in ecosystems can be tracked with their assistance. „The value of digital sequence information arises mainly from the ability to compare various data with each other. Restricting access is contrary to species conservation goals and the principle of Open Science,“ says Leopoldina member and co-author of the ad hoc statement Prof. Dr. Rudolf Amann of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen (Germany). Access restrictions to sequence databases would also have far-reaching negative consequences for natural and active substance research, for example, antibiotic development.
The experts are in favor of equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of biological diversity. They emphasize that access to sequence information for research should not be restricted by fees or that research funds should not be used for monetary benefit sharing. The situation is also complicated by the fact that, to date, information on the geographical origin of the data is missing for almost half of all Digital Sequence Information. The scientific community should therefore develop solutions to make this information traceable in the databases in the future. The specific design of an international benefit-sharing scheme under the Nagoya Protocol must be done in a way that does not jeopardize either biodiversity conservation or Open Science, according to the authors of the ad hoc statement.