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FLEDGE inputs to the International Plant Treaty dicsussions on Digital Sequence Information

Terminology used in this area

“Digital Sequence Information” (DSI) is a terminology is widely adopted at multiple fora, including the Convention on Biological Diversity and World Intellectual Property Organization. The terminology “genetic sequence data” (GSD) as proposed by some countries is an laternate terminology. Other similar terminologies include "genetic sequence data", "genetic information" and "dematerialized genetic resources". There is therefore a need for clarity and consolidation of these terms into one which could be “digital sequence information” for all multilateral purposes. Definition for plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, genetic material, and traditional knowledge are already harmonized with definitions in the Convention on Biological Diversity. Conservation of PGRFA, technical assistance, and sharing of benefits through the exchange of information, access to and technology transfer, capacity building, and the monetary and other commercial benefits often have linkages to the use of  “digital sequence information” and the use of uniform terminology across multilateral forums avoids unnecessary confusion.

Actors involved with DSI on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA)

The technology of DNA sequencing and synthetic biology is being highly decentralized, based on which sequencing, synthesis, storage, assembly, screening and other activities are conducted by multiple actors operating in multiple jurisdictions. Scientific bodies, universities and sequencing companies play a pivotal role in  generating DSI and making it available for research and innovation. Some important scientific institutions follow an open source model where there is a requirement for the submission of DSI in public databases as a condition of publication. Another set of actors are the professional biotechnologists and hobbyists who require access to the DSI for striving innovation and become the “users” of the DSI.

The types and extent of uses of DSI on PGRFA, such as: characterization, breeding and genetic improvement, conservation, identification of PGRFA

Large volumes of DSI will be essential for dealing with gene sequences and use of these genes relevant for recent advances in plant biotechnology, including gene editing, in crops within the ambit of ITPGRFA. DSI has a huge impact on targeted gene editing, using enzymes such as CRIPR – Cas9. DSI can facilitate the pursuit of more complex protein engineering, functioning with the kind of specificity similar to natural proteins. Using computer software, researchers have the opportunity to screen DSI to identify genes or proteins that encode for desirable traits or functionality. Once identified, genes can be synthesized and tested in vitro or in vivo. In phenotype engineering DSI and genome editing technologies facilitate the construction of multiple alterations to multiple genes across an organism. The wider use of DSI in synthetic biology means plants will be more efficient producers of chemicals and enzymes than microorganisms. This will result in the plant DSI to be mined within the ambit of the Treaty to have useful purposes.

The relevance of DSI on PGRFA for food security and nutrition

DSI collections are diverse in structure, ownership and usage. Some are public databases like iGEM, and some have public/private partnerships (foundries) and some are privately owned.  The open and unregulated access to DSI can become critical for food security and nutrition because it is a critical tool in research. Recent advancements in agro-biotechnology research have been facilitated by a drastic reduction in the cost of sequencing and the availability of sequence data made possible through multiple public databases. Open access model of DSI in PGRFA will bring more social benefits than increased regulation of DSI. While the issue of access to such information and sharing of benefits (ABS) while using the DSI is an issue under negotiation within the Nagoya Protocol of CBD, care should be taken to facilitate access to DSI than develop complex regulatory frameworks that many countries will find difficult to implement and comply with.

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FLEDGE and UNCTAD partner to develop a primer on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) and BioTrade

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), based in Geneva, and FLEDGE collaborated to develop a primer on outlining policy-practice links between BioTrade and ABS during 2015 resulting in a publication that formed the basis for a Ministerial Roundtable on the same topic at the UNCTAD IV Congress in Nairobi during July 2016.

Based on the recommendations of the Roundtable, UNCTAD organized the IV BioTrade Conference in Cancun, Mexico during the 13th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (2016) and prepared a comprehensive guidance document on BioTrade that is presented to 194 countries to reconcile national efforts on sustainable trade and conservation actions.

During November, December 2017, UNCTAD and FLEDGE will organize a series of two international Webinars to present the salient features of the guidance document.

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Contributing to policy and regulatory aspects on Synthetic Biology

National and international policy and regulatory framework on an emerging science – synthetic biology – is currently underway. In collaboration with TransDisciplinary University (TDU), UN Environment (UNEP) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), FLEDGE organized a series of 4 special seminars on various aspects of synthetic biology during July – September 2017.

Based on the outcomes of the seminars, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India is planning to develop a national policy framework on synthetic biology. FLEDGE will play a central role in the national policy making and awareness raising processes.

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FLEDGE and Skill Council for Green Jobs discuss options for “Future Smart Village” programme

Based on the field work and social enterprise development models that FLEDGE and its partners have worked thus far, a collaboration between Skill Council for Green Jobs (SCGJ) and FLEDGE is being fostered to help design ‘Future Smart Village’ programme in Karnataka and Gurugram. The Green Skill Academy is also expected to join the initiative soon.