Potential implications of the use of digital sequence information on genetic resources for the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. A submission from CGIAR to the Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The Secretary of the CBD called on relevant organizations and stakeholders "to submit views and relevant information on any potential implications of the use of digital sequence information on genetic resources for the three objectives of the Convention". CGIAR conducts strategic research for agricultural development ensuring food security with a mission to benefit small holder farmers in developing countries. CGIAR experience to date confirms that digital genomic sequence data1 can play important roles in the management and sustainable use of biological diversity and in the sharing of benefits associated with the use of that diversity. With respect to conservation, digital genomic sequence data has been used to assess genetic diversity of ex situ collections and to identify unique germplasm in farmers' fields which is not included in ex situ collections; this baseline information is essential for developing more effective ex situ and in situ conservation strategies. Concerning sustainable use, genomic sequence information, coupled with phenotypic and other data, can be used to identify genotypes that are well adapted to different, and changing, agro-ecological conditions. Integrated into crop breeding programs, genomic sequence information is increasingly useful for achieving targeted, efficient uses of genetic diversity in sustainable agriculture. The most important benefit to be shared from the use of genomic sequence information in agricultural research and development and plant breeding is improved food and livelihood security. Other non-monetary benefits associated with the use by CGIAR Centres of genomic sequence information are farmers' improved access to technologies, enhanced institutional capacities of developing country research organizations, shared research results, and local and regional economic development. Monetary benefits linked to Centres' uses of PGRFA are largely under the multilateral system of access and benefit-sharing of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). The multilateral system regulates access to material genetic resources, and not to genetic sequence information. One option currently under consideration for revising the multilateral system - introduction of a subscription system - could have the effect of dissolving the distinction between access to and use of material genetic resources and genomic information, since benefit sharing would be based on total seed sales which would in turn reflect the benefits to the commercial user of accessing and using both genetic resources and genomic sequence data. Technological capacities to generate genomic sequence data, currently known as Next-Generation Sequencing Technologies, have accelerated faster than capacities to enable practical use of this information. Relatively small investments in the initial generation of genomic sequences, must then be coupled with significantly larger investments to comparatively analyse genomic sequences, to link genetic variability to useful phenotypic traits or performance, to 'optimize' those traits, and ultimately, to develop new crop varieties for release and use in farmers' fields. CGIAR's experiences generating and using genomic sequences is still relatively new, although for analysis of germplasm collections we are further ahead. We anticipate that genomic sequence information will play an increasingly important role in CGIAR genetic resources conservation and breeding programs, and in turn will create benefits for resource poor farmers in developing countries. CGIAR underscores the importance of capacity building for developing country research and development organizations to generate and use genomic sequence information as part of their own conservation and crop improvement programs, and to be able to participate on equal footing in internationally coordinated and funded research and development programs. As part of its mission, CGIAR seeks to enable national partners in developing countries to take advantage of these and other potentially revolutionary and rapidly evolving technologies, to enhance food stability and security and close potential technological gaps. To that end, CGIAR centres are providing training and technology transfer for scientists in developing countries so that the impact and advantages from digital sequence data can benefit all.