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Will the Nagoya Protocol impact your synthetic biology research?

WASHINGTON The United Nations (UN) is working to ensure that the benefits of genetic resources are shared in a fair and equitable way via the Nagoya Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity, though questions remain about how this treaty will impact research in synthetic biology.

A new report from the Synthetic Biology Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars looks at how the protocol may affect U.S. researchers working in the field of synthetic biology.

The Nagoya Protocol was adopted in 2010 to provide a transparent legal framework for sharing genetic resources. "Its objective is the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources, thereby contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity," according to the UN.

But the report finds significant uncertainty surrounding what sorts of genetic material is covered and when the protocol would go into effect. For example:

Would synthetic DNA or "biobricks" be covered? Would genetic samples collected prior to the ratification of the treaty be covered? Would digital DNA sequences shared over the web be covered?

Despite this uncertainty and despite the fact the United States is not a signatory to the Nagoya Protocol or the Convention on Biological Diversity, the report suggests that U.S. researchers engage in these discussions as they develop, verify the origin of the genetic material that they use, and ensure that such material was taken in compliance with the domestic law of a provider country.


Contact: Aaron Lovell
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars/Science and Technology Innovation Program

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