Opening the way for global innovation in biotechnology

11 October 2018

The OpenMTA is a Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) designed to support openness, sharing and innovation in global biotechnology. Material Transfer Agreements (MTAs) provide the legal frameworks within which research organisations define terms and conditions for sharing their materials - everything from DNA molecules to plant seeds to patient samples.

Image credit: Phil Robinson, Scientific Photographer, John Innes Centre


Use of the OpenMTA allows redistribution and commercial use of materials, while respecting the rights of creators and promoting safe practices.

The new standardised framework also eases the administrative burden for technology transfer offices, negating the need to negotiate unique terms for individual transfers of widely-used materials.

The OpenMTA launches today with a commentary published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. It provides a new way to exchange materials commonly used in biological research and engineering, complementing existing, more restrictive arrangements. The OpenMTA also promotes access for researchers and individuals working in less privileged institutions and world regions.

The agreement was developed through a collaboration, led by the San Francisco-based BioBricks Foundation and the UK-based OpenPlant Synthetic Biology Research Centre, a joint initiative between the University of Cambridge, John Innes Centre and Earlham Institute.

The collaboration brought together an international working group of researchers, technology transfer professionals, social scientists, and legal experts to inform the creation of a framework that could improve sharing of biomaterials. The team identified five design goals on which to base the OpenMTA: (i) access, (ii) attribution, (iii) reuse, (iv) redistribution, and (v) non-discrimination.  Additional design goals include safety and sharing in an international context.

Dr Linda Kahl, Senior Counsel of BioBricks Foundation, said: “We encourage organisations worldwide to sign the OpenMTA Master Agreement and start using it.

In five years’ time my ideal is for the OpenMTA to be the default option for the transfer of research materials”.

“Instead of automatically placing restrictions on materials, people will ask whether restrictions on use and redistribution are appropriate and instead use the OpenMTA to promote sharing and innovation.”

Professor Jim Haseloff, University of Cambridge, UK, said: “The OpenMTA provides a new pathway for open exchange of DNA components - the basic building blocks for new engineering approaches in biology. It is a necessary step towards building a commons, a resource accessible to all, that will underpin and democratise access to future biotechnological advances and sustainable industries.”

Dr Nicola Patron, Synthetic Biology Group Leader at the Earlham Institute, said: “We have used the OpenMTA to provide so-called ‘DNA parts’ developed for our own research to scientists at several international research organisations. We hope that use of the OpenMTA will enable these materials to be shared and reused by plant scientists and biotechnologists everywhere. We believe that easy access to research materials accelerates both fundamental research and the application of scientific research to agriculture, industry and medicine.”

Dr Colette Matthewman, Programme Manager for the OpenPlant Synthetic Biology Research Centre, John Innes Centre, Norwich, said: “We hope to see the OpenMTA enable an international flow of non-proprietary tools between academic, government, NGO and industry researchers, to be used, reused and expanded upon to develop new tools and innovations.”

Drew Endy, President of the BioBricks Foundation, and Professor at Stanford University, said: “The OpenMTA provides a permissive foundation supporting many communities and interests. It is a critical step forward in enabling all people to benefit from next generation biotechnologies.

“To accelerate widespread adoption we encourage universities, corporations, funders, and charities to consider making the OpenMTA their default MTA (”

The new agreement was also welcomed by Dr Joanne Kamens, Executive Director at Addgene, a leading global charity that helps scientists share plasmids.

"Addgene is excited to see this new option becoming available to increase reagent sharing and scientific collaboration. This kind of open exchange drives innovation and accelerates research,” she said.

Dr Fernán Federici, an early adopter of the OpenMTA, from the Millennium Institute for Integrative Biology (iBio), Santiago, Chile, said: "The OpenMTA will be particularly useful in Latin America, allowing researchers to redistribute materials imported from overseas sources, reducing shipping costs and waiting times for future local users. We are implementing it in an international project that requires sharing genetic tools among labs in four different continents. We believe, the OpenMTA will support projects based on community-sourced resources and distributed repositories that lead to more fluid collaborations."

See full paper in Nature Biotechnology and visit to become a signatory.

Notes to editors.


Notes to editors

For more information, please contact:

Hayley London

Marketing & Communications Officer, Earlham Institute (EI)

  • +44 (0)1603 450 107


Background information

Open MTA – your questions answered


What is the OpenMTA?

An easy-to-use legal tool that promotes exchange of biological materials. By removing blanket restrictions, the Open MTA aims to inspire innovation so that all people benefit from advances in biotechnology.


Who can sign up? 

Universities, research institutes, companies, community labs, funders and charities are all encouraged to sign the OpenMTA Master Agreement.


Can you give us some examples of the biological materials and exchanges that are covered?

Research materials such as DNA, plasmids, microorganisms, proteins, seeds, and tissue samples are covered. The exchanges can take place between individual researchers or different organisations, including transfers of research materials between non-profit and for-profit sectors.


How does it work?

Visit to become a signatory to the OpenMTA Master Agreement. Then all that is needed to complete a transfer is an Implementing Letter, which specifies the materials to be transferred. The full text of the OpenMTA can be found at:


Can it work alongside other specific MTAs we have with collaborators?

Signatories are not obligated to use the OpenMTA for all transfers. Instead, individuals and organisations retain discretion in deciding which materials to transfer under OpenMTA terms so they may honour existing agreements that are already in place.

About Earlham Institute

The Earlham Institute (EI) is a world-leading research Institute focusing on the development of genomics and computational biology. EI is based within the Norwich Research Park and is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) - £5.43m in 2017/18 - as well as support from other research funders. - as well as support from other research funders. EI operates a National Capability to promote the application of genomics and bioinformatics to advance bioscience research and innovation.

EI offers a state of the art DNA sequencing facility, unique by its operation of multiple complementary technologies for data generation. The Institute is a UK hub for innovative bioinformatics through research, analysis and interpretation of multiple, complex data sets. It hosts one of the largest computing hardware facilities dedicated to life science research in Europe. It is also actively involved in developing novel platforms to provide access to computational tools and processing capacity for multiple academic and industrial users and promoting applications of computational Bioscience. Additionally, the Institute offers a training programme through courses and workshops, and an outreach programme targeting key stakeholders, and wider public audiences through dialogue and science communication activities.

About John Innes Centre

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, BBSRC invested over £509M in world-class bioscience in 2014-15 and is the leading funder of wheat research in the UK (over £100M investment on UK wheat research in the last 10 years). We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see:


About the BioBricks Foundation

The BioBricks Foundation is a US-based public-benefit organization dedicated to building with biology in an open and ethical manner to benefit all people and the planet. For more information, please visit



About OpenPlant

The OpenPlant Synthetic Biology Research Centre is funded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Engineering and Physics Council as part of the UK Synthetic Biology for Growth programme. It is a joint initiative between the University of Cambridge, John Innes Centre and the Earlham Institute. For more information, please visit