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Scientists must speak up in the Convention on Biological Diversity's (CBD) access and benefit-sharing negotiations — or risk losing access to critical biological resources, say Sikina Jinnah and Stefan Jungcurt.

Several outstanding issues in the negotiations will impact academics, say the authors.

Issues up for discussion include whether samples extracted exclusively for noncommercial academic research will be exempt from the CBD regulations; whether benefit-sharing rules will cover intermediate 'derivative' products as well as raw materials; whether biological material accessed before 1992 will be included; and whether we need international standards or individually negotiated contracts.

Scientists have much to offer the debate and there are several ways of getting involved, suggest the authors.

Raising awareness of how the negotiations could affect academic research is the first step. But scientists should also engage more actively in the negotiation process by lobbying governments, providing advice, attending conferences and meeting home-country CBD delegates.

With the CBD negotiations due to end in 2010, the opportunity for scientific input is closing fast.