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Social Justice Subcommittee

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Social Justice Committee Definition

Generating high-quality eukaryotic reference genomes is transforming our understanding of biology and evolution. The process of developing this resource so that it has long-term utility is complex and intricate, requiring not only technical and scientific expertise but also the integration of social justice principles. These data will have a significant impact on society, making the incorporation of social justice principles essential. In the ERGA community research setting, social justice means treating everyone fairly and ensuring that individuals from all backgrounds can benefit from our research. Key components of this process include diversity in research participation, fair distribution of research benefits, adherence to high ethical standards, dissemination of research findings to a broad audience, and fostering an inclusive and supportive research environment. The ERGA Social Justice Committee is dedicated to embedding justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion principles into every aspect of eukaryotic genome production, from sampling to results dissemination. This committee serves as an ethical compass for ERGA members, guiding the community to ensure that every step in the genome generation pipeline is conducted with social responsibility and respect for diversity. We aim to ensure both scientific rigor and social responsibility in our guidelines for generating high-quality reference genomes by integrating these principles.

Authors in alphabetical order

Chiara Bortoluzzi, Christian de Guttry, James Fleming, Fabrizio Ghiselli, Jennifer Leonard, Rebekah Oomen

Objectives

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Promoting Diversity

 In ERGA, diversity is multifaceted, encompassing the composition of research teams with individuals from diverse backgrounds and expertise, the variety of taxa sequenced and their geographical origins, as well as the involvement of stakeholders and citizen scientists. This approach ensures research methodologies and outcomes reflect nature's extensive diversity.

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Ensuring Equity

Equity in ERGA is about providing equal access to resources and opportunities across all individuals, communities, countries, and research institutions. It particularly aims to include those historically underrepresented or marginalised. Transfer of Knowledge is integral to this effort, ensuring broad participation in this research.

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Advancing Inclusion

Inclusion involves creating a research environment that values and welcomes the contributions of all, aiming to promote a setting in which every participant can thrive and deliver their maximum potential. To achieve this, we focus on enhanced communication tools, aiming to ensure everyone feels comfortable and supported.

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Upholding Justice

ensuring genomic research processes are available to interested researchers. It also means recognizing and addressing traditional social inequalities affecting current research practices.
 

Application in High-Quality Reference Genome Generation

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Diversity

Sequencing: Allocate sequencing capacity to underrepresented taxa to broaden biodiversity knowledge.

Collaboration: Establish diverse   consortia to ensure broad geographic representation in genomic research initiatives. Promote gender equality in research teams and leadership positions within genomic projects.

Outreach: Develop educational materials on genomics tailored to different academic backgrounds, ages, cultures, and languages.

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Equity

Sample collection: Ensure equitable access to the benefits from genetic resources for source countries and communities, in line with the Access and Benefit Sharing framework (ABS) and the Nagoya Protocol. Ensuring, where possible, equitable access to the field for researchers with diverse needs.

Wet lab: Partner with local labs in sample-origin countries to build capacity and share expertise.

 

Sequencing: Offer training programs and protocol sharing in sequencing techniques for scientists from all backgrounds.

 

Genome assembly: Provide open-source software and pipelines together with cloud-based computational resources for researchers who need access to bioinformatic support and computing power.

 

Publishing: Encourage open access availability, either through open access publication or deposition of versions of papers in open access repositories.

 

Technology transfer: Facilitate the transfer of cutting-edge genomic technologies to laboratories in low-income countries; Provide legal and technical assistance to navigate regulations.

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Inclusion

Sample collection: Implement informed consent protocols that respect Indigenous and local communities' rights and traditions. Empower the efforts of local taxonomic experts alongside those communities throughout the sample collection process.


Publishing: Adopt open-access policies for publishing results, making information freely available to the community as soon as possible.


Data sharing: Facilitate and encourage the rapid sharing of data in global databases that are freely accessible and FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable), promoting data democracy.


Capacity building: Establish mentorship programs connecting established scientists with emerging European-based researchers. In this way, we aim to encourage the development of a new generation of scientists with a representative and diverse mix of abilities, genders, ethnicities, cultural and economic backgrounds, and geographical origins.


Community engagement: Acknowledging the diverse contributions made beyond those in academia - universities/ museums/ research institutions - particularly those from local communities and underrepresented groups at all steps of the process from sampling to genome generation and appropriately recognizing their participation.


Outreach: Host public science events in biodiversity genomics in diverse geographical locations to spread awareness and foster interest. Ensuring scientific events are organised in a way that is inclusive and accessible, both physically and socially.

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Social Justice

Relevance: Acknowledging that both research and its outcomes could disproportionately affect specific communities within Europe, we commit to responsibly using outreach, engagement, and communication channels to center local communities impacted by biodiversity loss and anthropogenic environmental change, which are directly addressed in the ERGA remit.


Personal data sharing: Ensure that data-sharing practices respect the privacy and rights of individuals and communities represented in the data.


Ethics: Regularly review external bodies' ethical guidelines to address emerging issues related to social justice in genomics and strive to position ERGA to be as inclusive as possible.


Sustainability: Research and implement sustainable laboratory and computational practices to reduce waste and energy consumption; Evaluate the long-term environmental impact of genomic research activities and develop strategies to mitigate negative effects.

Conclusion

Achieving the broad goals of social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion in genomic research presents significant challenges. One major hurdle is the intrinsic resource and infrastructure disparities across different European regions. This discrepancy limits access to advanced genomic technologies, computational resources, and skilled personnel. This widens the gap between well-funded institutions in Strengthening countries and less-funded ones in Widening countries. It is also imperative to note that the historical underrepresentation of some groups and species in genomic studies poses ethical and logistical challenges when redressing these imbalances. The complexities of integrating diverse biological samples, especially from Indigenous and marginalised communities, require sensitive, informed consent processes and benefit-sharing arrangements that respect both legal frameworks and ethical considerations. Furthermore, incorporating a wide range of species and their geographical origins into research necessitates a collaborative effort, which geopolitical, financial, and linguistic barriers can hamper.

There are as many solutions to these challenges as there are issues themselves. Fostering international collaborations sharing resources, knowledge, and skills is a key strategy for building capacity in underrepresented regions and marginalised groups. Initiatives like cloud-based computational resources, open-source software, and open-access publishing models can democratise access to genomic research tools and findings. Furthermore, engaging local communities in the research process, from planning through to publication, ensures that projects are culturally sensitive and ethically sound, while also facilitating the equitable sharing of benefits. Education and outreach, tailored to diverse audiences, can raise awareness and foster a more inclusive next generation of genomic researchers. Ultimately, the path to achieving Social Justice in genomic research is ongoing and requires a commitment to continuous reflection, adaptation, and action towards these ideals.

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