Glossary of terms

In addition to the glossary below the European Commission has a Glossary of Terms in ABS

Access - The acquisition of Genetic Resources or of Traditional Knowledge associated with Genetic Resources from the country that has sovereign right over those resources (Providing Country).  Note that this term has not been defined in the Convention on Biological Diversity or the Nagoya Protocol, and may be used differently by some countries or organisations.  An agreed definition should be included in all relevant legal documents.  The EU Regulation defines access as ‘the acquisition of genetic resources or of traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources in a Party to the Nagoya Protocol’.

Access and Benefit Sharing Clearing House – Information sharing mechanism developed under the Convention on Biological Diversity to make information available on national contacts, national legislation and other matters relevant to Access and Benefits-Sharing generally and the Nagoya Protocol in particular.

Accession – The addition of specimens and samples to a collection, by which process they pass under the ownership or custodianship of the Institution, including long-term loans and material held in trust.

Benefits arising from the use of genetic resources – Not defined, but may include: (1) Monetary benefits when research and developments leads to a commercial product (e.g. royalties, milestone payments, licensing fees); (2) Non-monetary benefits (e.g. technology transfer, enhancement of research skills, sharing research results, research partnerships, Access to scientific information relevant to conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, including biological inventories and taxonomic studies, etc.)

Biodiversity Biobank – a facility for collection, preservation, storage and supply of typically non-human, biological samples and associated data, which follows standardized operating procedures and provides material for scientific use. Examples include natural history museums, herbaria, botanical gardens, culture collections, seed banks, and gene banks.

Biological material – all specimens and samples of or subsampled from living or dead organisms in GGBN member collections, regardless if it contains ‘functional units of heredity’ or not. See also ‘Genetic material’ and ‘specimen’.

Biorepository - A biological, including human, materials repository that collects, processes, stores, and distributes biological specimens to support future scientific investigation.  See also Collection.

Biotechnology  -  any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use  (definition from Nagoya Protocol, repeated from Article 2 of the Convention on Biological Diversity).

Collection – a group of specimens or samples that can be seen, studied, and kept together.  They are generally associated through sharing some feature, e.g. being of the same taxon (e.g. mammals, insects, sharks), from the same general locality or ecosystem, or collected by the same collector or on the same expedition. Collections are maintained by collection-holding institutions. The term biodiversity biobank may also be used, to include specimens which are not necessarily of whole organisms.

Commercialisation and Commercialise - applying for, obtaining or transferring intellectual property rights or other tangible or intangible rights by sale or licence or in any other manner, commencement of product development, conducting market research, and seeking pre-market approval and/or the sale of any resulting product based on utilization of the original genetic resource.  Handling fees (e.g. for providing DNA samples), entrance charges etc., fall under the scope of management and/or administration of public research  facilities, do not involve the utilization of Genetic Resources, and are not considered as a commercialization of research activity on Genetic Resources.

Competent National Authority – The body or individual in a country authorised to sign ABS agreements.

Derivative  – means a naturally occurring biochemical compound resulting from the genetic expression or metabolism of biological or genetic resources, even if it does not contain functional units of heredity (definition from Nagoya Protocol Art 2).

Exchange – also ‘Transfer’, and ‘Permanent supply’.  Permanent transfer of specimens to a Third Party to the original agreement; note that ‘exchange’ implies a receipt of items in return for providing or transferring items. This is somewhat different from a straight transfer.

Genetic material – any material of plant, animal, microbial or other origin containing functional units of heredity (definition form Nagoya Protocol, repeated from Article 2 of the Convention on Biological Diversity)

Genetic resources – genetic material of actual or potential value (definition from Nagoya Protocol, repeated from Article 2 of the Convention on Biological Diversity)
Internationally Recognised Certificate of Compliance – A record generated when the Competent National Authority of a Providing Country publishes a permit or equivalent (e.g. PIC and MAT) on the ABS Clearing House. This is given a unique identifier by the Clearing House and provides legal surety of the genetic resources covered. It may also be used to simplify reporting.

Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) – an agreement between two institutions stipulating the terms and conditions for transferring specimens or samples, including genetic material.

Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) – an agreement between two or more institutions to cooperate.  In the context of the GGBN Code of Conduct and Best practice this will include reference to ABS.

Mutually Agreed Terms (MAT) –  An agreement reached between the Providing Country of genetic resources and users on the conditions of access and use and the benefits to be shared between both parties.

Prior Informed Consent (PIC) – The permission given by the competent national authority of a providing country to a user prior to accessing genetic resources, in line with an appropriate national legal and institutional framework,  i.e. what a user can and cannot do with the material. 

Providing Country – the country supplying genetic resources collected from in situ sources, including populations of both wild and domesticated species, or taken from ex situ sources, which may or may not have originated in that country (definition from Article 2 of the Convention on Biological Diversity).

Research – The systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.  This does not include any development of commercial applications.

Traditional Knowledge (TK) – There is currently no generally accepted definition of TK at an international level. WIPO defines it as “knowledge, know-how, skills and practices that are developed, sustained and passed on from generation to generation within a community, often forming part of its cultural or spiritual identity.” It also notes that “TK in the narrow sense refers to knowledge as such, in particular the knowledge resulting from intellectual activity in a traditional context, and includes know-how, practices, skills, and innovations.” ( The Nagoya Protocol and EU Regulation cover TK associated with Genetic Resources (TKaGR), not TK as a separate element.

Traditional Knowledge associated with Genetic Resources (aTK; TKaGR) - The Nagoya Protocol and EU Regulation only cover aTK, leaving terms of access and benefit sharing relating to TK as a separate element, to be established by national legislation or in bilateral contracts.

Use – The purposes to which samples and specimens (biological and genetic material) are put, including but not limited to ‘utilization’ in the sense of the Nagoya Protocol.

Utilization (of genetic resources) – to conduct research and development on the genetic and/or biochemical composition of genetic resources, including through the application of biotechnology as defined in Article 2 of the Convention (definition from the Nagoya Protocol).

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith