The marine realm represents 70% of the biosphere and encloses 34 of the 36 living phylum described so far, yet marine resources have long been underexploited due to the difficulty in accessing them. Pain killer, anticancer and anti HIV drugs have however been developed since several years from the limited repertory explored in coastal areas. During the recent years however advances in technologies for oceanographic exploration (ROV, submersible, sonars…) opened access to hitherto unexplored areas in high seas, while the exponential progresses in molecular biology allowed getting beyond some limits previously hampering the exploitation of marine resources. Those progresses have dramatically increased our ability to exploit marine resources, at a much faster rate than societal thoughts about environmental and ethical issues were evolving. Marine biodiversity is as a result emerging as a large potential source of natural products and genes with application across all bio-based industries from medical to food and energy, opening broad and promising prospects for human well-being. Yet, access to these resources is highly uneven across nations. Ten countries own more than 90% of the patents including “marine genes” and the top three countries approximately 70%, a pattern similar to the one observed for human and plant crop genes. Whereas patents on human genes are being challenged in court, the status of most marine genetic resources remains in a legal void while benefits from intellectual property take-off. An international governance framework is urgently needed to ensure a fair access to marine genetic resources and benefit sharing, and we aim at discussing possible solutions to ensure both the reward of research efforts and an equitable access and benefit sharing of resources that were once considered as the common heritage of the human kind.
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