Authors: Ros Gleadow, Brad Sherman and Robert Henry

Many plant scientists rely on open access to information such as DNA sequence data to do their work. They are probably also aware of obligations to respect access and benefit sharing (ABS) rights under the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (The Treaty) and maybe the Nagoya Protocols on Access and Benefit Sharing.  These arrangements have long been understood to cover the actual biological material (the plant) but international moves to extend these agreements to include associated data such as digital DNA sequence information (DSI) may impact more directly on the activities of plant scientists (Marden, 2018). 

Reconciling the importance of ongoing open access to sequence data that many see as critical to advancing science and protection of the legitimate rights of countries and traditional owners of biological resources is challenging. The issues are complex and vary depending upon the laws in each country, when and where plants are sourced and the particular plant species.  Historical collections, such as those in seed banks or gene banks, may be especially difficult to use as it may be impossible to satisfy the needs for prior informed consent for material collected a long time ago (Sherman and Henry, 2020).

Particularities of digital DNA sequence information (DSI)

Sequence data in databases may be even more difficult because these databases include data from very large numbers of samples with differing sources.  When we have a new DNA sequence, we usually compare it with the huge collection of publicly available sequences to determine function.  Each sequence in a database may have a different requirement for approval of access and benefit sharing if sequence data is included in international agreements.  Recently, options for dealing with benefit sharing for digital sequence information (DSI) have been identified (Scholz et al., 2020), but none of these options may be easy to implement and satisfy all stakeholders. Disclosure of DNA sequence data is usually required as a condition of publication, but this may not be consistent with benefit sharing requirements.

Plant scientist need to have a voice in the policies and practices that are developed internationally. We urge pant scientist to become familiar with the issues in their country and internationally and contribute to the development of effective approaches at all levels.  We need to be proactive in developing a code of practice for plant scientists that provides leadership to policy and law makers in governments globally.


Marden E (2018) International agreements may impact on genomic technologies. Nature Plants 4, 2-4.

Sherman B and Henry RJ (2020) The Nagoya Protocol and the problem of historical collections of plants. Nature Plants 6, 430–432.

Scholz, A H, et al. ( 2020) Finding Compromise on ABS & DSI in The CBD: Requirements & Policy Ideas from a Scientific Perspective.

About the authors

Ros Gleadow is a Professor in Biological Sciences at Monash University. She is a plant ecophysiologist with an interest in bioactive plant products and crop wild relatives. She is President of The Global Plant Council.

Brad Sherman is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Professor of Law at The University of Queensland where he researches on intellectual property and food security.

Robert Henry a Professor at QAAFI, a Research Institute of the University of Queensland. Current research targets plant genome sequencing for the capture of novel genetic resources.

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