Deep-Sea Genetic Resources

Image courtesy of Verena Tunnicliffe, University of Victoria, Canada

Access to deep-sea marine genetic resources (MGR) in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) and the sharing of benefits arising from their use is a topic of growing international debate that could have profound implications for deep-sea science. This topic is one of the core issues currently under consideration at the United Nations as part of a process to develop a new international legal instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (65% of the ocean surface) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

MGR could be accessed in different ways and provide a number of possible benefits both monetary (e.g. financial) and non-monetary (e.g. access to data and capacity development). MGR could also potentially be applied in a range of different industry sectors (e.g. pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food, industrial processes). However, it is not yet clear how access to MGR in ABNJ could be most usefully facilitated and how benefits could be effectively derived and equitably shared. Further integrating deep-sea science with international law is important to understand and address these challenges.

This working group (currently 87 members) aims to explore and identify options for conserving and sustainably utilising deep-sea genetic resources, including questions relating to access and benefit sharing of marine genetic resources beyond national jurisdiction.

Current Working Group Activities:

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


Recent Working Group Activities:

1) Convened a workshop at the 14th Deep Sea Biology Symposium (Aviero, September 2015) to discuss possible roles for the deep sea biological community in addressing challenges for accessing and sharing benefits from MGR in ABNJ.

2) 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).

3) Briefing paper – Discussing MGR as part of ABNJ: how to protect biological life and facilitate scientific research? (Nov 2015)

4) Survey: Priorities for facilitating marine scientific research relating to MGR ABNJ.  DOSI.DSGR_DiscussionPaper (March 2016). Submitted letter and summary of survey results to 1st Preparatory Committee meeting for the development of a new legal instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction under the UN convention on the Law of the Sea (23rd March 2016).

5) Attendance at 2nd BBNJ process PrepComm (August/September 2016) and submission from DOSI entitled: Considerations regarding deep-sea marine scientific research in areas beyond national jurisdiction.  In addition, a DOSI Policy Brief was submitted to this meeting entitled: Climate Change in Oceans Beyond National Jurisdiction.

6) 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. The main objectives of WP6 are * to provide guidance and tools for scientists on how to sample, source and utilize marine genetic resources lawfully and * to contribute the perspectives of scientists using marine genetic resources in their R&D to policy discussions concerning regulations which may ultimately impact on these R&D activities. Report to follow.

7) Attendance at 3rd & 4th prep comm for BBNJ process (2017).

8) 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.

9) Link to Marcel Jaspers work (University of Aberdeen) on BBNJ

10) In advance of the second session of the intergovernmental negotiating conference (BBNJ) March 2019, DOSI produced 2 policy briefs on MGR in preparation for the meetings and DOSI side-events.  These briefs summarise aspects of Marine Genetic Resource value and management.

The Full Value of Marine Genetic Resources (MGR)

Accessing and Sharing Benefits from MGR from ABNJ: Building on Best Practices in the Scientific Community

Aberdeen workshop participants, June 2018

Current leadership of the working group is:
Jane Collins, Elva Escobar & Marcel Jaspars

Want to get involved?

If you are interested in participating in the DOSI-DSGR working group, please contact Jane Collins: jane.collins at