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Digital sequence information: free access is crucial


"Global problems such as the extinction of species and the decline of biological diversity, climate change, pandemics and hunger can only be solved with free access to digital sequence information", states Prof. Jörg Overmann PhD, Scientific Director of the Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures.

"Without free access to digital sequence information [DSI], research on a national, European or international level will simply fail to work. Digital sequence information must be preserved as common good", stresses Prof Overmann.

The microbiologist is one of the signatories of the position paper published by the Leibniz-Scientific Network Biodiversity. The statement advocates the preservation of DSI as a free common good and is addressed, amongst others, to the respective directorates of the EU Commission.

The position paper bears the signatures of 430 scientists from ten EU member states. The speakers of the Network are scientists Jörg Overmann (DSMZ) as well as Kirsten Thonicke of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Johannes Vogel of the Museum of Natural History in Berlin (MfN).

Open DSI preserves biodiversity

Biological diversity can only be preserved by freely available digital sequence information (Open DSI). Without free access, researchers would be hamstrung, scientific development would slow to a crawl or even be rendered impossible. Jörg Overmann's demand is clear: "The fundamental scientific principle of Open Data and Open Science has to be maintained."

Two example starkly illustrating the importance of free data access are the COVID-19 pandemic and the antibiotic crisis. To control the antibiotic crisis, researchers use DSI to predict whether a microorganism can produce antibiotics or, conversely, has developed resistance against antibiotics.

Scientists can only conduct these in silico experiments if they have unrestricted access to DSI. Open DSI means that genetic information of microorganisms uncultivatable until now can also be read and used. In case of a promising prediction, certain fragments of genetic information can be transferred into another microorganism, which could then produce the desired antibiotic.

Open DSI essential for global SARS-CoV-2 research

And if researchers worldwide had only had limited access to SARS-CoV-2 sequence information, the identification of the delta variant as a new and dominant virus variant would have taken much longer. The characterization of the associated infection risk and disease severity would have been a far more arduous task for scientists in individual countries, probably resulting in a significantly more dangerous infection process.

Free access to DSI of the Corona virus allowed researchers around the world to closely work together, leading to the swift and transnational implementation of countermeasures. "International free-access data sharing is crucial for solving complex problems", concludes Prof Jörg Overmann.

» Position paper "Keep digital sequence information a common good"

Source: Leibniz Institute DSMZ