Marine Genetic Resources

Image courtesy of Verena Tunnicliffe, University of Victoria, Canada

The Issue: The genetic resources of the deep sea can be can be utilised for a range of different applications, including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food, industrial processes and scientific research, to provide several potential benefits. The fair and equitable sharing of benefits from genetic resources is inextricably linked to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas both within and beyond national jurisdiction. Access to deep-sea genetic resources  and the sharing of benefits arising from their use is a topic of critical importance in the development of a new international agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (See DOSI BBNJ working group). However, it is unclear how access to MGR can be facilitated in practice and how benefits could be effectively derived and equitably shared. Bridging deep-sea science with international law is important to understand and address these challenges.

The Working Group: The marine genetic resources working group aims to explore and identify options for conserving and sustainably utilising MGR, including questions relating to access and benefit sharing of these resources. It currently has 87 members from around the globe.

Current Activities:

  • Re-visit MGR in ABNJ questions raised by 2016 survey
    1. Access to MGR – code of conduct? Facilitating scientific research?
    2. Data and samples
    3. Capacity Development
    4. Expand focus to include areas within national jurisdiction? Facilitate addressing issues such as Genetic sequence data?
  • Consideration of cross-cutting issues: funding, institutional frameworks, enabling policy environments for interdisciplinary, international and cross-sectoral collaboration.

Past Activities (in reverse chronological order):


  • New report commissioned by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) investigates the scientific capacity challenges facing Small Island Developing States in relation to marine genetic resources of areas beyond national jurisdiction and proposes options to address such challenges through a new treaty for biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. The report was led by Harriet Harden-Davies and Marjo Vierros alongside an expert advisory panel: Judith Gobin (Professor, University of West Indies), Marcel Jaspars (Professor, University of Aberdeen), Angelique Pouponneau (CEO, Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust) and Katy Soapi (Research Scientist, Fiji). Read the summary for policymakers (November 2020)
  • A number of the working group contributed to a UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) research briefing on Digital Sequence Information, which summarises the challenges of governance of genetic resources and the possible options for addressing them.
  • High Seas Treaty Dialogue on Marine Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing (January 2020 – Norway).  Harriet Harden-Davies was invited to discuss on of the most challenging issues to date in the BBNJ negotiations.
  • Meeting: Towards a package: marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (January 2020, Edinburgh). DOSI co-sponsored (along with University of Aberdeen and the Atlas Project) a gathering of more than 50 participants to discuss the development BBNJ. The participants included policymakers, diplomats, civil society and academic experts from legal, scientific and other backgrounds.  With the fourth (and possibly final) round of negotiations fast approaching, this workshop provided a valuable opportunity to exchange views and identify areas where further discussions are needed.   In addition to the workshop, a public event and reception was held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on the evening of 22 January.
  • New publication Sept 2019: Rabone M, Harden-Davies H, Collins JE, Zajderman S, Appeltans W, Droege G, Brandt A, Pardo-Lopez L, Dahlgren TG, Glover AG and Horton T (2019) Access to Marine Genetic Resources (MGR): Raising Awareness of Best-Practice Through a New Agreement for Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ). Front. Mar. Sci. 6:520. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00520
  • DOSI MGR Zoom Call summary 17 July 2019.
  • DOSI produced 2 policy briefs on DSGR in advance of the 2nd Intergovernmental Conference for BBNJ (March2019) and conducted DOSI side-events.  These briefs summarise aspects of Marine Genetic Resource value and management: The Full Value of Marine Genetic Resources (MGR) and Accessing and Sharing Benefits from MGR from ABNJ: Building on Best Practices in the Scientific Community
  • Workshop funded by DOSI and the University of Aberdeen, Scotland: Marine Genetic Resources in the BBNJ process – Building Bridges, University of Aberdeen, June 2018.  Workshop report.
  • Link to Marcel Jaspers work (University of Aberdeen) on BBNJ (DOSI WG Co-Lead)
  • Attendance at 3rd & 4th PrepComms for BBNJ process (2017).
  • Participation of WG members in PharmaSea EU project WP6 survey on the legal and policy bottlenecks relevant to the sampling and utilization of marine biological resources.
  • Attended 2nd BBNJ process PrepComm (August/September 2016) with DOSI submission entitled: Considerations regarding deep-sea marine scientific research in areas beyond national jurisdiction.  A DOSI Policy Brief was also submitted to this meeting entitled: Climate Change in Oceans Beyond National Jurisdiction.
  • Conducted a Survey on priorities for facilitating marine scientific research relating to DSGR in ABNJ.  Submitted letter and summary of survey results to 1st Preparatory Committee meeting for the BBNJ process (23rd March 2016). DOSI.DSGR_DiscussionPaper (March 2016).
  • Promoted engagement between deep-sea biology community and the UN process for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction, in relation to access and benefit sharing of marine genetic resources. Including: Sign-on letter for facilitating research for MGR ABNJ (Jan 2016)
  • Produced briefing paper discussing DSGR as part of ABNJ: how to protect biological life and facilitate scientific research? (Nov 2015)
  • Workshop (September 2015, Aveiro, Portugal) to discuss possible roles for the deep-sea biological community in addressing challenges for accessing and sharing benefits from DSGR in ABNJ

Aberdeen workshop participants, June 2018