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cientists from developed and developing
countries have expressed concerns about
overly restrictive government-imposed
requirements to gain access to biological
resources needed for academic research (1–5).
Indian scientists, for example, have been con-
cerned that exceedingly burdensome inter-
national access regulations are driving away
international collaborators in fields such as tax-
onomy, where India has enormous biological
potential but limited domestic expertise (6).
Scientists globally expressed outrage in 2007
when the primatologist, Marc van Roosmalen,
was sentenced to almost 16 years in prison in
Brazil for possession of monkeys at his rehabil-
itation center without appropriate permits (7).
The Association for Tropical Biology and Con-
servation circulated a petition on his behalf,
signed by over 250 scientists from 31 countries,
condemning the sentence and calling van
Roosmalen’s situation “indicative of govern-
ment restrictions on scientists.” Whether such
problems are ameliorated or exacerbated in the
future may depend on results of the Convention
on Biological Diversity’s (CBD’s) ongoing
negotiations to develop an international “re-
gime” for access and benefit-sharing (ABS).
While other nongovernmental stakeholders
such as indigenous groups and trade associa-
tions have been active participants in the ABS
discussions, to date, academic scientists have
been relatively silent. Participation does not
guarantee that new guidelines will reflect all
aspects of scientific concern; however, it
would be unfortunate if decisions were made
in the absence of scientific voices highlighting
how future rules will affect the academic
research community. With the negotiations
on the ABS regime due to conclude in 2010,
the window for scientific
input in the process is
The CBD aims not
only to conserve biologi-
cal diversity but also to
address sustainable devel-
vation issues. Specifi-
cally, the CBD aims to
negotiate rules that facili-
tate foreign access to
genetic resources in bio-
and to ensure that local
communities and govern-
ments that provide access
to those resources are
protected from commer-
cial exploitation by pow-
erful foreign interests. Providers of resources
would also be fairly compensated under the
future regime. These discussions mostly take
place in the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Working
Group on Access and Benefit-Sharing
(ABSWG), which was created in 2000 (see
figure). They focus on issues such as the fol-
lowing: (i) how to ensure prior informed con-
sent from knowledge holders or provider coun-
tries before accessing genetic resources and
associated traditional knowledge; (ii) how to
access genetic resources based on mutually
agreed terms between the user and provider
countries; and (iii) how sharing benefits aris-
ing from the use of these resources could take
place. In 2004, the CBD mandated its
ABSWG to negotiate an international agree-
ment related to ABS (8), and significant
progress has been made in the past year, with
many of the basic components starting to
come into focus (9). However, there are still
areas of controversy and areas where the
implications for the research community have
not been fully appreciated.
The most pertinent issue for research aca-
demics is whether or not the ABS regime will
allow exemptions for samples extracted exclu-
sively for noncommercial academic research.
Although this issue has been mentioned at var-
ious ABSWG meetings, the final decision has
not yet been made. The discussion suffers from
a lack of understanding about how academics
use biological resources and how to differenti-
ate noncommercial and academic research
from commercial research and development.
If an exemption for academic research is not
included, or conditions for exemption are so
strict as to exclude many researchers, three
additional issues are of particular importance to
the academic research community. First, ABS
negotiators are currently divided over whether
“derivatives” of biological material should be
subject to benefit-sharing rules and, if so, how
derivatives should be defined. In other words,
must benefits arising from the use of inter-
mediate research products (such as synthetic
processes or isolated gene sequences) as op-
posed to raw materials (such as plant specimens
collected directly from the field) be shared? A
broad definition of derivatives would subject
intermediate research products and possibly
final products, such as new biocatalysts, phar-
maceutical products, or even consumer goods,
such as coffee, to benefit-sharing obligations.
Further, under a broad definition, if derivatives
of noncommercial research become the basis
for future commercial utilization, researchers
could be held responsible for downstream
Second, ABS negotiators are divided over
whether or not biological material accessed
before 1992, when the CBD became legally
binding on its member governments, should
be covered. Its inclusion would likely require
burdensome compliance requirements, be-
cause, for example, the necessary information
to identify original suppliers of biological
material may not have been recorded. So far,
practical difficulties associated with this issue
have not been reflected in the working docu-
ment that is currently guiding the ABSWG’s
As the rules for foreign access to biological
resources are being negotiated, academic
researchers and organizations should make
their opinions known.
Could Access Requirements
Stifle Your Research?
and Stefan Jungcurt
GLOBAL BIOLOGICAL RESOURCES
Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University,
Providence, RI 02912, USA; sikina_ firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Institute for Sustainable Development,
Winnipeg, R3B 0Y4, Canada; email@example.com.
Access. Delegates of the African Group and other biodiversity-rich countries
seeking common ground on conditions for access to genetic resources during
a meeting of the ABSWG in Geneva in January 2008.
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Finally, of critical importance to researchers
is the question of whether the CBD should
develop international ABS standards, or should
allow contracts to be negotiated on a case-by-
case basis, subject to minimum standards in
different sectors. This issue is one where scien-
tists’ field experience would be of tremendous
value, as it was during the negotiations of the
2002 International Treaty on Plant Genetic
Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITP-
GRFA) (11–15). The research community
could provide similar practical guidance as to
the benefits and drawbacks of harmonized,
case-tailored, or hybrid approaches to negotiat-
ing access to biological research materials.
How can academic scientists get involved?
The first step is raising awareness within the
academic community about how they may be
affected by the results of the negotiations. The
CBD secretariat posts documents that detail
the issues to be discussed before any ABSWG
meeting on its Web site (16). During ABSWG
meetings, the International Institute for Sus-
tainable Development’s Earth Negotiations
Bulletin provides daily coverage of what is
discussed during the meeting, as well as a
summary and analysis of the meetings’ out-
comes (17). Finally, various nongovernmental
organizations, such as Botanic Gardens Con-
servation International, Bioversity Internat-
ional, or the Swiss Academy of Sciences, reg-
ularly post informational materials on their
Web sites (18–20).
Second, researchers should engage more
actively in the negotiation process. Research
institutions and international academic organi-
zations can participate as observers in meet-
ings of the ABSWG. The scientific community
should develop a harmonized voice on ABS
issues by using existing informal networks and
professional associations, such as the Assoc-
iation for Tropical Biology and Conservation.
These groups can both continue lobbying
domestic governments responsible for negoti-
ating the ABS regime and directly participate
in the international negotiations. Bodies quali-
fied in the fields of biodiversity conservation
or sustainable use can register as observers at
most CBD meetings (21). Although observers
do not have voting rights, they are encouraged
to take the floor at meetings to voice their opin-
ions. More important, these venues provide
scientists direct access to their countries’ nego-
tiators to discuss their views.
In addition, frequently, CBD member gov-
ernments request submissions on a specific
issue from both member governments and
“other stakeholders.” Observer organizations
can submit documents in these situations,
which the CBD secretariat will make available
to member governments before an upcoming
meeting. For example, at the most recent CBD
Conference of the Parties (COP) in May 2008,
member governments requested relevant
stakeholders to submit views, proposals, or
operational text and supporting rationales on
the potential components of the regime (22).
Although documents submitted in response to
this request are not yet publicly available on
the CBD Web site, they might include sugges-
tions for definitions, or practical mechanisms
to facilitate access, benefit-sharing, compli-
ance, and capacity building. This is an oppor-
tunity for scientific professional organiza-
tions, such as the Society for Conservation
Biology, to pool member experience and to
prepare a paper on, for example, experiences
with overly restrictive access requirements,
such as those faced by entomologists in India,
when a collaborative project to study the
insects of the Western Ghats was derailed by
the Indian National Biodiversity Authority for
biopiracy concerns (23).
This is not to say to that scientists necessar-
ily have a unified voice on this topic. For
example, historical collaborative asymmetries
between developed- and developing-country
scientists with regard to funding priorities, divi-
sion of labor, and authorship benefits (24) have
highlighted some of the legitimate reasons why
provider-country scientists may be reluctant
to support open access (25). Nevertheless,
this debate has been notably absent from the
Further, CBD member governments also
decided to convene three expert meetings to
assist in technical aspects of the regime. The
first meeting, held in December 2008, was of
particular interest to research scientists because
noncommercial research, including how such
research might be affected by a future ABS
regime, was one of the topics for discussion
(26). Participating experts for these meetings
are typically nominated by member countries.
A good way to be considered for participation
is by attending international negotiations,
meeting with home-country delegates, and
expressing interest in participation.
In addition, a workshop on ABS in Non-
Commercial Biodiversity Research, organized
by the Barcode of Life Initiative and other sci-
ence organizations, was held in November 2008.
Participants from 10 national science agencies
and international organizations exchanged
views on the issues to be addressed by the
expert meetings, such as ways to distinguish
commercial and noncommercial research. The
views and recommendations of the workshop
have been submitted to the CBD expert meet-
ings (27). Such meetings and workshops pro-
vide excellent opportunities for scientists to
participate more actively in the ABS negotia-
tions. There are also opportunities now for peer
review of studies on technical and legal issues
that have been commissioned by the CBD.
There are, of course, many other avenues
for participation in the international ABS nego-
tiations. We have described here those entry
points that have the highest potential for influ-
ence given the short time-line for conclusion of
the negotiations by 2010. There are three more
meetings of the ABSWG scheduled (28) before
the regime is signed and sealed. Industry, envi-
ronmental, and indigenous organizations are
certain to continue making their voices heard.
Why not academics too?
References and Notes
1. M. D. Madhusudan et al., Curr. Sci. 91, 1015 (2006).
2. K. ten Kate, Science 295, 2371 (2002).
3. K. S. Bawa, Curr. Sci. 91, 1005 (2006).
4. R. Pethiyagoda et al., Curr. Sci. 92, 426 (2007).
5. A. Revkin, New York Times, 7 May 2002, p. F1.
6. K. T. Prathapan et al., Curr. Sci. 94, 170 (2008).
7. E. Check, T. Hayden, Nature 448, 634 (2007).
8. The ABSWG deals with ABS requirements for international
users, not domestic ABS requirements that would apply
to in-country scientists.
9. See Earth Negotiations Bulletin reports in vol. 9, no. 398
(2007); no. 416 (2008); and no. 452 (2008), from the
International Institute for Sustainable Development,
Winnipeg, Canada; available at www.iisd.ca/vol09/.
10. See Annex of CBD COP9 Decision IX/12; www.cbd.int/
11. C. Fowler, Science 297, 157 (2002).
12. R. Sauvé, J. Watts, Agric. Syst. 78, 307 (2003).
13. S. Jungcurt, Institutional Interplay in International
Environmental Governance: Policy Interdependence and
Strategic Interaction in the Regime Complex on Plant
Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Shaker,
Aachen, Germany, 2008).
14. H. D. Cooper, Rev. Eur. Community Int. Environ. Law 11,
15. C. Fowler, Genet. Resour. Crop Evol. 51, 609 (2004).
16. Access and Benefit-Sharing, CBD, www.cbd.int/abs.
17. Available at www.iisd.ca.
18. Botanic Gardens Conservation International, www.bgci.org.
19. Bioversity International, www.bioversityinternational.org.
20. Access and Benefit-Sharing, http://abs.scnat.ch.
21. To register, the chief executive or president of an organi-
zation must submit an official letter to the CBD executive
secretary indicating names, titles, and contact details of
22. CBD COP9 Decision IX/12, www.cbd.int/decisions.
23. K. S. Jayaraman, Nature 452, 7 (2008).
24. J. Gaillard, Knowl. Technol. Policy 7, 31 (1994).
25. E. Masood, SciDevNet News, 15 April 2004; www.scidev.
26. This Technical Expert Group convened 2 to 5 December
2008 in Windhoek, Namibia. For further information
27. The workshop was held 16 to 19 November 2008 in Bonn,
Germany. Submissions are available at www.cbd.int/.
28. Tentative dates and venues for these meetings are ABS7:
2 to 8 April 2009, Paris, France; ABS8: 9 to 15 November
2009, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and ABS9: 1 to 7 April
2010, Bogotá, Colombia.
29. Supported by NSF, University of California (U.C.) at
Berkeley Institute for International Studies, U.C. Institute
for Global Conflict and Cooperation, Soroptimist Inter-
national, German Foundation for Nature Conservation
(DBU). We thank our colleagues of the Earth Negotiations
Bulletin and its donors, as well as ABSWG Cochair T. Hodges,
B. Fraleigh, and P. Chasek.
www.sciencemag.org SCIENCE VOL 323 23 JANUARY 2009
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