Digital Sequence Information (DSI)
Digital sequence information on genetic resources (DSI) has had a dedicated work stream on the international agenda of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (Nagoya Protocol) since 2016.
The term DSI does not have an internationally agreed meaning and is not commonly used among scientists. It was first introduced into discussions under the CBD and has since become a placeholder, although its concept and scope are not clear and more appropriate terminology is needed.
The issue of DSI arose due to the increasing speed and falling costs of sequencing, which have resulted in an enormous quantity of biological data being produced and stored in publicly accessible databanks, which are used for research and development, including for commercial purposes. This happens in the absence of benefit-sharing obligations and many Parties and other actors are concerned that this will negatively impact on the third objective of the CBD and the objective of the Nagoya Protocol.
Divergent positions on DSI have emerged over the past few years. There is disagreement, for example, on whether the definition of “genetic resources” in the CBD covers DSI or not, whether DSI should fall under the ABS regime, and whether open access to DSI can be regarded as a sufficient form of benefit-sharing.
These issues are being dealt with in the context of the CBD and other international instruments and processes. At the CBD’s 14th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt in November 2018, key decisions were made on DSI (Decision14/20) and the comprehensive and participatory process for the preparation of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework (Post- 2020 Framework) (Decision 14/34). Decision 14/20 put in place a science policy process to inform the discussions on DSI. DSI has also been plugged into the intersessional activities supporting the development of the Post-2020 Framework, making the Framework central to how DSI will be dealt with in the future. Central questions for African actors include how the Post-2020 Framework will address the three objectives of the CBD in a balanced way, what role ABS should play, what the link is between ABS, DSI and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and critically how DSI, and especially benefit-sharing, will be addressed.
The Parties to the CBD and the Nagoya Protocol will meet again in 2020 in Kunming, China, at which time further decisions will be made on DSI and the Post-2020 Framework. A number of Parties, including the African Group, have indicated that benefit-sharing is an inextricable part of the CBD “package deal” and the Post-2020 Framework must include benefit-sharing for DSI if the Post-2020 Framework is to be accepted.