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Could Slow Outbreak Sharing

In recent infectious disease outbreaks, rapid sharing of genetic data has allowed researchers to monitor the pathogens' movements and shed light on their origins. But, as Cosmos reports, changes under consideration by the United Nations could impede such investigations.

Currently, whether genetic sequence data falls under the auspices of the Nagoya Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity is up for debate, notes a trio of Dutch researchers in Science. The Nagoya Protocol was meant to encourage the equitable sharing of biological resources and discourage biopiracy, Cosmos notes. But as the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment's George Haringhuizen and his colleagues write in their policy discussion, if pathogens' genetic sequences fall under the protocol, "the free sharing of sequences for surveillance and tracking of pathogens and outbreaks could become illegal."

They outline different ways in which researchers could share pathogen data by adapting biobank frameworks if that came to pass. But as Cosmos writes, each is cumbersome, as researchers would have to negotiate with the various governments in whose jurisdiction outbreak samples were collected, and each could have different terms of use.

"Unless clarity is provided for such matters, the ability to respond to outbreaks that require international data sharing is likely to be severely hampered," Haringhuizen and his colleagues write.