Terms of reference

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The Global Genome Biodiversity Network Terms of Reference

Activated April 7, 2016 Updated May 13, 2020


The Global Genome Biodiversity Network (hereafter GGBN) is an international network of institutions, organizations and other networks that share an interest in long-term preservation of genomic samples representing the non-human diversity of life on Earth.

GGBN provides Members with the primary benefit of making genomic samples discoverable for research through a networked community of biodiversity biobanks. In doing so, GGBN provides trusted and transparent access to genomic samples for all, through an access and benefit sharing framework.

GGBN also provides a platform for collaborating biodiversity biobanks to:

  • Ensure consistent quality standards for genomic samples;
  • Improve best practices for preservation and use of such collections; and
  • Harmonize the exchange and use of material in accordance with national and international legislation and conventions.

This document describes the formal governance structure of GGBN.


  • Biodiversity biobank (= Biodiversity repository): A publicly accessible and curated collection of primarily non-human biological material, e.g. DNA, RNA, culture, environmental or tissue samples. Examples include, but are not restricted to natural history museums, herbaria, botanical gardens, culture collections, seed banks, aquaria, and zoos.
  • Genomic Sample: Biological material preserved potentially in order to keep all or part of its molecular properties (in general excluding human material). Examples include DNA, RNA and whole tissues.
  • Members: Institutions, organizations and networks that have, by mutual agreement with the Executive Committee, associated with GGBN as an Observer, Associate, Core or Consortia Member, as outlined under Member Roles and Responsibilities.

Mission and Activities of the Organization

GGBN’s mission is to promote access to information about, and legal exchange of, the genomic samples maintained by its Members as defined under GGBN Membership and Member Responsibilities.

GGBN will pursue this mission by:

  • Contributing information on its respective collections to an online institutional registry of biodiversity biobanks;
  • Developing and maintaining the GGBN Data Portal through which standardized data about genomic samples can be shared;
  • Using the information shared through the GGBN Data Portal to highlight taxonomic and geographic strengths and weaknesses in individual Member collections and across the network;
  • Encouraging biodiversity biobanks to contribute data to the GGBN Data Portal and so become Core Members of GGBN;
  • Recruiting new GGBN Members, thereby expanding geographic and taxonomic coverage of the network;
  • Gathering information on best practices for collection and data management that will:
       a. be of general interest to biodiversity biobanks,
       b. support improved access to collections for research, 
       c. serve as resources for professional training and education, and
       d. contribute to the improvement of public awareness and appreciation of genomic biodiversity;
  • Documenting and acknowledge individual researcher and institutional contributions through the construction of a globally distributed database of genomic samples;
  • Developing ethical standards for Member compliance regarding international access to biological samples, their subsequent use, and the sharing of the resulting research and/or benefits.

To achieve this mission, one of GGBN’s principal activities will be the management of a globally distributed database of genomic samples linked to voucher specimens (herein referred to as the Data Portal). This networked database will act as a guiding resource for research across the Tree of Life. GGBN’s Data Portal will be made available online under a Creative Commons license that prohibits its redistribution as a commercial product. Members can withhold selected data for any reason. Data displayed through the portal will only be updated or edited by the Member providing the data. All data made available through the GGBN Data Portal will be the property of, and properly attributed to, the contributing Member.

GGBN’s activities will be guided by the following convention and protocol:

GGBN’s activities will contribute to the goals of the Global Taxonomy Initiative of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Member Roles and Responsibilities

Membership in GGBN is open to institutions, organizations and other networks that have an interest in biodiversity biobanks. Institutions, government agencies, and other scientific organizations that own and manage collections of non-human genomic samples, along with other organizations involved in genomic biodiversity may apply to the Executive Committee to become a Member or may be nominated by a GGBN Member at any time. Membership in GGBN is by mutual agreement between the prospective Member and the Executive Committee. Prospective Members are expected to have interests in:

  • Genomic research and research infrastructure connected to non-human biodiversity;
  • Interacting with other Members and the GGBN Secretariat;
  • Contributing to the achievement of GGBN’s goals.

GGBN has four Member categories: Observer Members, Associate Members, Core Members, and Consortia Members. In addition, organizations and other networks may join GGBN as a Partner.

Observer Members

Institutional biodiversity biobanks and organizations that have an interest in biodiversity biobanks and biodiversity informatics and/or:

  • Support the goals of GGBN;
  • Provide technical expertise to GGBN;
  • Participate in GGBN activities and Task Forces.

Observer status is limited to three years.

Associate Members

Institutional biodiversity biobanks that have initiated the process of becoming Core Members, and therefore:

  • Have made a commitment to long-term preservation of genomic collections and associated data, for the purpose of providing access for research;
  • Have an enterprise level data system that can provide data on a reliable basis;
  • Are represented in an institutional registry of biodiversity biobanks;
  • Intend to prepare and contribute data to the GGBN Data Portal in compliance with the standards established by the relevant GGBN Task Force.

Core Members

Institutional biodiversity biobanks which fulfill the requirements of Associate Membership and are actively contributing data to the GGBN Data Portal in compliance with the standards established by the relevant GGBN Task Force.

Consortia Members

A group of individual institutional biodiversity biobanks sharing a central server for collection data provision or collection database and fulfill the requirements of Associate or Core Membership. This category of participation is designed to allow consortia or collaborative organizations to provide data to GGBN. Consortia participation in GGBN will be negotiated with the GGBN Executive Committee on a case by case basis. Additionally, individual members of a consortium will be able to negotiate with the GGBN Executive Committee to gain complete access to GGBN’s direct benefits.


Non-biodiversity biobanks, governmental agencies and organizations that have an interest in biodiversity biobanks and/or biodiversity informatics and support the goals of GGBN by providing technical expertise to GGBN and participate in GGBN activities may join as partners. Partners and GGBN may, if deemed appropriate, sign an MOU.

Monetary or In-Kind Contributions for Direct Benefits

Contributions and direct benefits for Members are outlined in the table below. Contributions by Members may be made as in-kind or in-cash, and are based on the institution’s country income level, as outlined under Contributions by Members.

In-kind contributions will be reviewed and approved by the Executive Committee annually and based on the needs of the GGBN’s annual operating budget.

Contributions and Benefits
Core/Associate Observer Consortia
Contributions Yes No Negotiable
Technical Support Yes No Negotiable
Usage and Reporting Statistics Yes No Negotiable
Voting Participation in GGBN Governance Yes No Negotiable
Eligibility for GGBN Funding Opportunities Yes Yes Negotiable
Specialized Access to Biodiversity Biobanking Resources Yes No Negotiable
Reduced registration fee for GGBN Conferences Yes No Negotiable

Contributions are mandatory for members who want access to at least one of the following direct benefits:

  • Technical support for genomic collection standardization and discoverability
  • Bi-annual usage and reporting statistics on collections made discoverable through GGBN
  • Active participation in GGBN governance and decision-making processes
  • Eligibility to funding opportunities through GGBN awards programs and for fundraising support
  • Specialized access to biodiversity biobanking resources, such as webinars, forums, and workshops, along with access to other network members.

Based on direct benefits received, GGBN members will receive the following indirect benefits:

  • Raised Institutional Member Profile. Increased institutional credibility by participating in a network of leading institutions that share focuses on transparency and compliance with legal measures and sets the global standard for biodiversity biobanking.
  • Greater Visibility and Impact. Increased sample discoverability, driving added value, use and relevance of the member’s genetic collection.
  • Shared Best Practices. Facilitated management and stewardship of genetic and other molecular samples and their derivatives, at the institutional level.
  • Knowledge Exchange. Training and access to the document library and other resources. Networking with potential collaborators through conferences, workshops, and working groups.
  • Strategic Relationships. Collections growth by facilitated networking with the research community. Access to expertise in biobanking, collections, and data discoverability through GGBN’s partners, such as Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF), Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), European, Middle Eastern and African Society for Biopreservation and Biobanking (ESBB), International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaboration (INSDC), and International Society for Biological and Environmental Biorepositories (ISBER).

Partner Benefits include:

  • Strategic partner alliances with GGBN to facilitate collaboration on activities related to biodiversity biobanking of genomic samples for research
  • Access to GGBN’s newsletter and other GGBN communications
  • Access to letters of support and promotional opportunities from GGBN, including logos posted on GGBN’s website

General Assembly

The General Assembly represents the entire GGBN Membership, including Core, Associate, Observer, and Consortia Members, and is the ultimate decision-making body of GGBN. All Contributing Associate and Core Members carry one vote. Non-Contributing Observer Members and Partners have no votes. Contributing Consortia carry a negotiable number of votes based on direct benefits received, total amount of data served to GGBN and total number of individual Core Consortium Members (see above).

A quorum consisting of at least half of the Contributors is required for all decisions. Contributors may send more than one representative to meetings of the General Assembly, but Contributors will have one vote only, with the possible exception of Consortia (see above).

A Contributor may cast its vote in absentia or may delegate its vote to another Contributor that will be present at the General Assembly meeting. Any Contributor can carry only one in absentia vote.

In absentia votes and a delegation of voting rights must be provided in writing to the Secretariat one week prior to the beginning of a General Assembly meeting.


The General Assembly is made up of individuals representing GGBN Member organizations.

Authority and Duties

The General Assembly is to make decisions by consensus whenever possible or by simple majority, unless specified otherwise. The General Assembly has the authority to:

  • Modify the Governance Model and GGBN Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) (two-thirds majority required);
  • Alter the rates of the annual monetary Contributions by Members (two-thirds majority required);
  • Elect Members of the Executive Committee;
  • Nominate members of standing Task Forces;
  • Nominate and/or renew the terms of the Secretariat and Technical Management hosts;
  • Identify strategic activities and partners;
  • Identify new Task Forces and propose issues, ideas, and new Task Forces for consideration by the Executive Committee;
  • Approve GGBN’s strategies as proposed by the Executive Committee to include policies, budgets, and work plans;
  • Consider any matters pertaining to GGBN or its operations submitted to it by the Executive Committee Chair, the Secretariat Host, the Technical Management Host, or by any Member.


Meetings will coincide with annual or biennial GGBN Conferences. An annual vote to approve the operating budget, work program, and other essential decisions recommended by the Executive Committee will take place at meetings or by electronic ballot if no meetings are scheduled to take place within a given calendar year. Conferences are preferably held at a new geographical location each time and hosted by a Contributor.


The General Assembly will be chaired either by the Executive Committee Chair or a meeting chair specifically elected at the meeting.

Executive Committee

The Executive Committee is a working committee responsible for overseeing the operations of the Secretariat and Technical Management Offices in implementing the work program and budget.


Executive Committee membership is by General Assembly election.

Executive Committee membership shall be in accordance with the following requirements:

  • The Executive Committee shall consist of a maximum of 11 members, which shall include the Chair, Vice Chair, and up to nine Members representing the General Assembly.
  • Task Force Chairs shall serve in a non-voting ex-officio capacity unless they are also elected members of the Executive Committee.
  • The Program and Technical Managers shall serve in a non-voting ex-officio capacity. The Program Manager shall act as secretary to the Executive Committee.
  • Executive Committee members shall include those institutions or organizations that have signed the GGBN MOU and are making a monetary or in-kind contribution to GGBN.
  • The Executive Committee can invite individuals with specific expertise or knowledge to join discussions as observers at any time.
  • Membership is through election by the General Assembly. New members are nominated by a Nomination Committee of GGBN Members appointed by the Executive Committee.
  • The Nomination Committee will seek to nominate candidates that represent a balance among geographic regions and between Contributing Member categories. Nominees will preferentially reflect the distribution of Contributors among size categories and disciplines.
  • The Chair and Vice Chair are nominated by the Executive Committee and confirmed by the Members of the General Assembly.

Authority and Duties

The Executive Committee shall be responsible for:

  • Setting strategy, policy, direction, and budgets;
  • Developing and implementing work plans;
  • Evaluating progress and producing yearly reports;
  • Raising funds;
  • Reviewing applications for Membership.

Nominations and proposals made by the General Assembly will be confirmed by the Executive Committee and resubmitted to the General Assembly for final approval.


To align with General Assembly meetings and elections, membership on the Executive Committee will be for four years.

The term of membership for the Chair and Vice-Chair will last four years. The Chair and Vice-Chair shall not be employed by the Institutions hosting the Secretariat and Technical Management Office.


The Executive Committee shall meet at least one time per calendar year and as deemed necessary by the Executive Committee. In-person Executive Committee meetings shall coincide with annual or biennial GGBN Conferences. The Chair, Vice-Chair, Program Manager, and Technical Manager shall meet as deemed necessary to monitor operations and work program implementation.


The GGBN Executive Committee will have a Chair and Vice-Chair. The Chair and Vice-Chairs will be elected by the General Assembly, following nominations by the Executive Committee. The Chair and Vice-Chair are elected for four years.

Task Forces

Task Forces were originally established to address:

  • Data Standards and Data Access for Genomic Samples;
  • Policies and Practices Related to Management and Stewardship of Genomic Samples;
  • Marketing and Outreach (hereafter Communications and Outreach).

New Task Forces may be proposed and identified by the General Assembly. For a list of current task forces and associated work programs, see the Governance page.


Task Force membership shall be in accordance with the following requirements:

  • Task Forces will be composed of nominated GGBN Member representatives plus the Task Force Chair.
  • Task Force members shall have capabilities and resources specifically applicable to the Task Force.
  • The GGBN Program Manager serves in an ex-officio capacity on each of the Task Forces.
  • Members may include GGBN Members and Partners. Membership is through nomination by Members of the General Assembly and confirmed by the Executive Committee. Members serve a four-year term that may be renewed by the Secretariat Office indefinitely.
  • Chairs are nominated by the Members of the General Assembly and confirmed by the Executive Committee. Chairs hold a four-year term that may be renewed by the Executive Committee and confirmed by the General Assembly.

Authority and Duties

Task Forces shall be responsible for achieving goals outlined by the Executive Committee and approved by the General Assembly.


Task Forces shall meet in person and/or by teleconference as needed in order to accomplish the goals of GGBN. In-person meetings will coincide with annual or biennial GGBN Conferences.


Each Task Force will be led by a Task Force Chair (see above).

Secretariat and Technical Management Offices

GGBN’s Executive Committee will oversee the Secretariat and Technical Management Offices.

Secretariat Office

Subject to available funding provided by the GGBN, the Secretariat Office performs day-to-day operational management for GGBN, coordinates Member activities, and provides administrative support and communication services for the General Assembly, Executive Committee, Task Force chairs, Technical Management Office, and GGBN Members.

Technical Management Office

Subject to available funding provided by the GGBN, the Technical Management Office performs day-to-day operational management of the GGBN Data Portal, GGBN Registry, and GGBN Document Library, coordinates further improvements and provides technical support for GGBN Core and Associate Members, and Consortia Members as negotiated.


The Secretariat Office and Technical Management Office will consist of a Program Manager and Technical Manager, respectively, and any additional staff members whose positions will be approved by the General Assembly. The Program and Technical Managers will report formally to their respective employers with input from the Chair of the Executive Committee.


The Secretariat and Technical Management Offices are run by volunteer institutions for five-year terms that may be renewed by the General Assembly. A new Secretariat and Technical Management Office host may be nominated by the General Assembly every five years.

Contributions by Members

Annual contributions are either in-cash or in-kind and are based on the country income level (Gross National Income). A 50% discount is given to members retrospectively, thus members who provide new data to the GGBN data portal in the previous year get a reduced fee. For example, new samples are published to GGBN by member A in 2020, resulting in a 50% discount on member A’s annual contribution in 2021. All amounts are in USD.

Income Level Countries[*] Annual Contribution Annual Contribution with Data Upload Discount
Low Chad, Haiti, Niger, Uganda $100 $50
Lower Middle Nigeria, Pakistan, Viet Nam $475 $238
Upper Middle Brazil, China, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, South Africa $800 $400
High Australia, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, United States $1250 $625

[*]Based on Economies by per capita GNI in June 2019, published in World Economic Situation and Prospects 2020 (see https://www.un.org/development/desa/dpad/wp-content/uploads/sites/45/WESP2020_FullReport.pdf, Table E, page 168), to be updated annually.

Activation and Deactivation

The activation and deactivation of the GGBN Terms of Reference will be enacted in accordance with the following:


This document was activated on April 7, 2016 when the 11th Contributor organization submitted a letter of intent to make an annual monetary contribution to GGBN and signed the original 2013 GGBN MOC.


This document may be deactivated with a two-thirds majority vote in the General Assembly.