Is digital information on gene sequences a natural resource – yes or no? This question is concerning the Nagoya-Protocol and currently being debated by the United Nations. The outcome of these negotiations will have consequences for research and development, as well as for global equity, because compensation may have to be paid to the countries of origin of the organisms whose genes are involved in the use of digital genetic information – usually poorer parts of the southern hemisphere. On the one hand, this agreement aims at strengthening the protection of biodiversity, and, on the other, counteracts the exploitation of the global South by the industrialised nations. However, once you start thinking about the concept of natural resources in a digital context, you quickly come up against contradictions and consequences unfavourable to all parties involved. This Gordian knot was already inherent in the respective concepts even before digitisation, but is now being tightened by it – a conflict that is difficult to resolve and which, in view of the rapidly advancing use and exploitation of digital genetic data, demands a quick and fair solution.
Anna Deplazes-Zemp is a philosopher and molecular biologist. She researches and teaches at the UZH in Zurich and is concerned with questions of bioethics and scientific ethics. In this episode of “Digitalgespräch”, she explains the concept of digital genetic resources, the background to the negotiations on the Nagoya Protocol and the major task facing those responsible. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, she illustrates the imbalances of the concept of a “digital natural resource” and discusses the urgent questions of justice that are affected by it and which considerations would have to be included in the development of a solution that actually achieves its goals: Protection and sustainable management of biodiversity and a fair balancing of global injustices.
Episode 10 of “Digitalgespräch”, feat. Anna Deplazes Zemp, Universität Zürich, 19 October 2021
Link to text of the Convention on Biological Diversity: