What counts as ‘utilization’ of a genetic resource? I use genetic material for systematics/phylogenetics. Is that ‘utilization’ of a genetic resource?

What counts as ‘utilization’ of a genetic resource? I use genetic material for systematics/phylogenetics. Is that ‘utilization’ of a genetic resource?

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  1. editor

    Good question. The term ‘utilization’ is vaguely defined, seemingly intentionally, because its definition could evolve over time. Here are some official accounts of what falls under ‘utilization’.
    From the European Commission (http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-411_en.htm)
    “Utilization means to conduct research and development on the genetic and/or biochemical composition of genetic resources, including through the application of biotechnology. Research and development are cumulative requirements. This means that to be in the scope of ‘utilization’, as defined in the ABS Regulation, the activity has to include an element of development. Further interpretation of this term can be expected at the international level with the entry into force of the Nagoya Protocol and the beginning enforcement practice.”

    —Remember this is an unofficial response to your question—
    For a systematics project, you might be asking, does building a phylogeny count as development? Generating and publishing sequence data does not currently count as utilization, but the research and development using those sequence data does (though this is country dependent; I’m basing this off of Brazil. See https://mbio.asm.org/content/8/4/e00982-17). The European Union did a study on interpretation of the term ‘utilization’ for taxonomy and phylogenetic studies, and some people felt that the research was so fundamental that it did not meet the criteria of ‘development’ and should not fall under ABS/Nagoya Protocol. However, a few people did think the lines were blurry between using phylogeny for basic or applied work, and therefore it could fall under ABS/Nagoya. See the full text here: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/biodiversity/international/abs/pdf/ABS%20Final%20Report%20upstream%20users.pdf

    It is safest to strive for Nagoya Protocol compliance and to consider the downstream ways your work might be used. It’s also good to consider that different countries can set their interpretation of whether systematics/phylogenetic/taxonomic work, using either morphological or molecular characters, qualifies as ‘development’ as well as ‘research’ and therefore falls under the scope of Nagoya. You can always write the national focal points of provider countries with such questions. Many countries are still forming their policies and building the infrastructure to handle questions like this, so don’t let it stifle your work. You can keep a record of your permits and the allowed uses of the materials you are using, and of the provider communities and organizations who could be involved in developing mutually agreed terms retroactively if indeed your work is deemed to fall under Nagoya in the future. Remember the reason for the Nagoya Protocol is to help share benefits and access in order to catalyze understanding and protection of biodiversity, and systematics is a fundamental piece of that. Slowing your science would be counter to what the Nagoya Protocol was developed for.

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