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Biotech Science

The Opening of Biotech 200

Posted by Hemos
from the genes-just-wanna-be-free dept.
RockinRobStar writes "ABC Science have posted an article about an Australian geneticist, Dr Richard Jefferson, pushing for "free access to the scientific tools of modern biology and genetics...just as computer programming tools were shared in the open source software movement." "The scientific tools...would be licensed under a similar agreement as the general public licence". Dr Jefferson plans to present his program to the World Economic Forum in January."
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The Opening of Biotech

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  • ha... (Score:1, Troll)

    by JohnnyBigodes (609498)
    Dr Jefferson plans to present his program to the World Economic Forum in January.

    ... and maybe get laughed off the 'stage' by all the money-making politicians/whatever, most likely. They want ways to make money, bear no illusions.
    • Re:ha... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Golias (176380) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:20PM (#7599338)
      Won't the current pantent laws, as they apply in most Western countries, take care of this?

      Free Software needed the GPL (or the BSD License... Let's not start up that Holy War again) because software is usually locked up by copyright, and copyright lasts a long time.

      Genetic research usually results in patents, though.

      Patents give researchers a few years to make "ph4t l00t" as a return on their investment, and then lapse into the public domain. It's a pretty good balance between incentive for research and sharing of knowledge. What exactly is the problem here?

      • Won't the current pantent laws, as they apply in most Western countries, take care of this?

        No. In fact, patent law will support this. If you create something Biotech and patent that something and/or the method used to create it, you have effectively prohibited anyone else from patenting the same thing. If you chose to release the method as Open Source, you have guaranteed that it will be freely available, because no one else can charge a royalty for it, because you own the patent.
  • by Pingular (670773)
    free access to the scientific tools of modern biology and genetics
    I just had a debate about this a mere 30 minutes ago, what with all the cloning etc going at the moment, this isn't always a good thing. I think the information the public at large get should be carefully monitored. We wouldn't want people being able to clone themselves at home.
    • Re:Uhoh (Score:5, Funny)

      by Angostura (703910) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:13PM (#7599244)
      What?! My licence specifically says that I am allowed to make one (1) copy of myself for off-site back-up.
    • Think of the possibilities for low wage labor.
    • Re:Uhoh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fenix down (206580) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:33PM (#7599501)
      We wouldn't want people being able to clone themselves at home.

      Why not?

      Maybe I'd think you had a point if you were talking about home genetic engineering, or if we had tubes where you could pump out backup copies of yourself like in a Governor Arnold movie, but cloning is just cloning. There's almost no issue there, besides whether cloning causes health problems in the clone. I can make my own Prozac with less expertise and cheaper equipment than I'd need to clone myself, and nobody's up in arms about that.

      Everybody goes on about how cloning is a moral crisis, without ever pointing out exactly where the crisis is. Rich people cloning themselves? They do that now, they just use somebody else's DNA to help. Overpopulation? How is a screaming food-hole that's genetically identical to you any more appealing than a screaming food-hole that's only 40-60% genetically identical to you? Cloned soldiers? That's a movie, if you're going to form an army of brainwashed-from-birth psychos, cloning isn't going to help you very much. Other than the fact that we're playing God by shockingly inserting on our genetic material into an egg cell in order to reproduce manually rather than leaving it to a chemical reaction, I don't get the shock and horror.

      I understand not wanting to clone people until we can figure out whether or not you end up with a genetically diseased baby, that's reasonable and absolutely necessary, but being appaled at the very idea of circumventing miosis is just weird to me. But perhaps I'm just odd.
      • Other than the fact that we're playing God by shockingly inserting on our genetic material into an egg cell in order to reproduce manually rather than leaving it to a chemical reaction, I don't get the shock and horror.

        Two sources of shock and horror:

        1. Playing God
        2. The development of this technology can lead to being cloned without your knowledge

        Neither of those seem to justify the fear to me, but those are the sources I have run up against.
        • "1. Playing God
          2. The development of this technology can lead to being cloned without your knowledge
          "

          Religion is losing power rather rapidly (in western nations, at least). Census data from the US, UK, and Australia (I haven't looked at others, but I have little doubt they'd be similar) show that the younger generations have far less religion ("No Religion" or "Atheist" as response) than their parents. "Playing God" may be a major issue today, but it may not be in a few decades.

          Being cloned without you
          • Religion is losing power rather rapidly (in western nations, at least).

            I agree, and I disagree. I observe that large organized religions are losing power. Smaller, new faiths are absorbing the rest. See The Evolution of Religion [homeip.net].

            Being cloned without your knowledge really isn't all that bad.

            I don't think it's that big a deal, but most people's sense of identity is so wrapped up in their physical body that they see it as a violation.

            While I think it's a bit sick and twisted (vision of self as perfect,
            • "Well, who knows what a person's reasons are? I'm sure there are legitimate reasons/cirumstances for making a clone of oneself, just as there are sometimes legitimate reasons for killing another person."

              Okay, then - what are they? I can understand killing someone when there is no other option to prevent them killing someone else, but I haven't thought of any for cloning yet, aside from cloning biologically "useful" individuals for science (i.e. rare people naturally resistant to cancer/AIDS/malaria/etc). I
      • > but being appaled at the very idea of circumventing miosis is just weird to me. But perhaps I'm just odd.

        You're not odd.
        Reposting my own post (please forgive) here from Science: Bacteria More Virulent in Microgravity [slashdot.org]

        With the recent concerns regarding the overuse of antibiotics, when to take them, etc., knowing the difference between a virus and a bacteria is more important than ever.

        Yet both of the articles use the term "virulent" to describe a bacteria. Technically it's not wrong, but it's no

      • To try and understand the ethical problems with cloning you need to think about it from the child's perspective and think about the practicalities of the child-parent/clone-original relationship.

        Is the father-son dynamic, the same as the original-clone dynamic? How will the son feel about being a clone, biologically identical? how will he fit into society.

        You say that being appalled at the idea of circumventing meiosis is weird to you. But that is to misunderstand the issue. It's not just meiosis that we
        • If the best you can do is speculate about the effects on a child regarding how it might feel about the mode of reproduction its parent(s) used, then having children by genetic replication (sometimes known as cloning) is neither better nor worse than any other method. Nor, genetic causation being the crap-shoot it is, does it give a much higher level of predictivity of lifespan or disease risk than ordinary reproduction does, so you can simply put that fantasy aside.

          Note that even to grasp at those straws r
          • Let's go through that point by point, shall we?

            Your last line states as an axiom that a child created through cloning and a child created by genetic mixing are equivalent in every important respect. The point of this discussion is to look at whether that is true. So - from the top.

            1. "if all you can do is speculate about the [mental wellfare of the child]... hen having children by genetic replication (sometimes known as cloning) is neither better nor worse than any other method

            Again you state this as an

        • I'm not sure how I would feel, and what mental strain would be thrust upon me if I were to be able to look at my mother/father and know that I was an exact biological copy, with an overwhelminmg likelihood of getting - say - prostate/ovarian cancer at age 43.

          All a matter of perspective. In her 1976 story "Houston, Houston, do you read?", James Tiptree, Jr. subverted this position by positing a future in which cloning has become the norm, sexual reproduction having been eliminated by disease:

          "It's so pe

  • Problems (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Talrias (705583) <(gro.edalgrats) (ta) (sirhc)> on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:12PM (#7599229) Homepage
    The problem with this is that scientists want to get credit for what they are doing. Both of my parents are scientists and even though they want to get more people interested in science they want to get the credit, not someone else who manages to see that two and two equals four where they didn't.
    • The problem with this is that scientists want to get credit for what they are doing.

      And how, exactly, is this problematical?

    • Re:Problems (Score:3, Interesting)

      by krumms (613921)
      The problem with this is that scientists want to get credit for what they are doing. Both of my parents are scientists and even though they want to get more people interested in science they want to get the credit, not someone else who manages to see that two and two equals four where they didn't.

      How unproductive. No wonder cancer hasn't been cured yet, if this is the sort of "me, me, me" squabbling that goes on in science.

      Understandable though, assuming that this credit leads to further funding for the
      • Re:Problems (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Apogee (134480) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:34PM (#7599513)
        How unproductive. No wonder cancer hasn't been cured yet, if this is the sort of "me, me, me" squabbling that goes on in science.

        Understandable though, assuming that this credit leads to further funding for the said scientists.


        Yes, you are right ... collaborating instead of competing for sure could lead to more interesting research, faster breakthroughs and a good community spirit among scientists. But in biology (that's the only discipline I can really talk about), this is pretty much a thing of the past, since grants, funding, positions in academia as well as in industry are to a large extent a direct function of how many papers you have published, and in what journals you published them. Only the best and brightest (something like 20-30 articles at age 35, and a handful of them in excellent journals) will get a shot at a group leader position.

        This system has its merits, but one corollary is that you're not actually selecting the best and brightest, but perhaps the best-connected and those who can "sell" their work better than others. Another corollary, which is more damaging in the long run perhaps, is that nobody shares his data unless his authorship is acknowledged and under lock and seal. Conferences have become boring. I hear that 10-15 years ago, people would come to conferences and share the freshest, most exciting data from their lab. Nowadays, nobody gives a talk or shows a poster at a conference where the data isn't already published (i.e. you most likely read it already), or at least accepted for publication (i.e. you maybe read the e-pub ahead of print).

        It's sad, and it's - exactly as you stipulate - due to all the rewards being tied to your publication record. Publish or perish, as they say.
        • Re:Problems (Score:3, Insightful)

          by rowanxmas (569908)
          Don't forget that while someone may have 20-30 articles, what matters is how often they are referenced. That way the impact that you have has a measurable quantity.
    • Good point.<P>I am not at all surprised to learn that scientist are some of the worst ego maniacs.<P>
      A high profile scientist can only b eequated to a multi platinum selling rapper. The credit and acknowledgement they get in the scientific community is their "Bling-Bling". And the nobel prize being the cadillac escalade or the rolls royce.<P>
      But this can be easily acchieved by the GPL like license. The terms of the license should be that if you use data that is licensed under that perticul
    • Re:Problems (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Llyr (561935)
      As a scientist myself (albeit a computer scientist) I certainly do get credit for what I do, even what I do that I allow the world to use (by, for example, publishing an algorithm). Of course, publishing is part of my job and so I don't need to hoard my innovations in order to make money from them. It would be rather different if I worked for a company -- but even in the business world there are companies that see the value in publishing their techniques in order to advance science.

      Hoarding key biotech te

    • Re:Problems (Score:2, Interesting)

      by SemperUbi (673908)
      It's totally reasonable for scientists to get credit for the work they do. One problem is the way that credit is scored, for purposes of advancement. Scientists get a disproportionate amount of credit for first-authoring primary research studies that get published in peer-reviewed print journals. Credit for being an author other than first (or last), or writing a review article, is much less, and credit for work that doesn't result in publication of one's name as author is almost negligable.

      People gene

    • You know, funny thing. All GPL source code I've looked at has the authors names in the copyright statement.

      This ignoring the fact that your parents are allowing their selfish desires to stop them from spreading knowledge and, you know, helping mankind.

      I have no problem with acknowledgement. I have a huge problem with scientist who let there desire for it prevent them from sharing their insights and research. Maybe they don't go this far, maybe they just want to keep the funding going. But if more scienti
    • linus didn't write the linux kernel all by himself, but obviously he gets the credit (in media etc) for the hard work of others. they (other kernel programmers) didn't combine the idea of joining forces and keeping the source open. many people are credited in the source though.

      as far as your idea goes: if someone else puts two and two together, you didn't think hard enough before you published.

      *or*

      it's an inherent property of closed review systems. many eyeballs make all bugs shallow right? thus a more o
    • I would argue that the problem here is that in today's culture scientists want the credit because without it being funded is very difficult. If funding were not so competitive I would bet that most scientists (myself included) would be happy without the credit as long as they had the money to keep working. And face it, most scientists today don't get much credit beyond their colleagues's anyway (there aren't many publicly famous scientists out there), and I would be willing to bet that open-source computing
  • Interesting circle (Score:4, Interesting)

    by iamdrscience (541136) <michaelmtripp@gm ... om minus painter> on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:16PM (#7599278) Homepage
    All the time in articles, books, etc. relating to open source and free software people mention Newton's assertion that science is based on other people's work and that it stands "on the shoulders of giants". It's interesting now that [b]science[/b], in this article, is making an analogy to free/open source software for the same reasons. Kind of the completion of a circle, eh?

    Also, although I know very very little about "biotech", I like it just because it's one letter away from "BIOTCH".
  • by 3.5 stripes (578410) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:17PM (#7599293)
    The big question is who is going to write the manuals. It's not as if biotech isn't already difficult enough.

    • Ya, those damn prescript kiddies.

      I hope they just dont packet me...er...pill me? err...

      It just wont be a good scene.
    • " The big question is who is going to write the manuals. It's not as if biotech isn't already difficult enough."

      While parent was joking, what he said rings very true. For example, I am very interested in biotech, yet I know nothing about the biology or engineering involved because I have not taken extensive schooling in college for it.

      This isn't something that is really simple enough for someone who isn't extensively school in it to grasp on their own through "reading a manual" (although maybe lots and lo

  • by teamhasnoi (554944) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {ionsahmaet}> on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:17PM (#7599305) Homepage Journal
    Openness? I can't see how the biotech, medical, and defense companies could make a profit by giving the tools to research and create to just anyone.

    Plus, wouldn't this put the tools of terrorism in the hands of those who would destroy us for the sake of tens of virgins in the afterlife?

    The safe thing to do is to hide all knowledge of these technologies from everyone who isn't a corporation based in the U.S.. That way, these tools can only be used for the good of the human race.

    Bleh.


    • The safe thing to do is to hide all knowledge of these technologies from everyone who isn't a corporation based in the U.S.. That way, these tools can only be used for the good of the human race.


      The most truly insane thing about this comment is that, judging from your previous remarks, you probably even meant it seriously.

      Please tell me you didn't.
      • You must not have read far enough back to note that I am for the spread of knowledge, free exchange of ideas and speech, and the dissolution of the 'rights' of corporations.

        I am not a fan of intrusive government, legislation of morality, and democracy driven by 'donations'.

        I enjoy long walks by the ocean, a midnight snowfall, and a fine Guinness.

        Turn-offs include: Bad moderation, spam, and focus-group music.

        I hope this clears up your misperception of my comment.

  • by G4from128k (686170) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:24PM (#7599389)
    Open access to biotechnology may have unintended consequences that reduce the utility of the biotech knowledge. As much as people hate patents, they do serve a purpose. Giving someone a monopoly right to sell something gives them the incentive to spend money on development. Drug development is hideously expensive -- without some hope of a billion dollar blockbuster payoff, companies aren't going to invest anything in open-access pharmaceuticals.

    Now if we could convince goverments to spend money on all aspects of pharma development, we might be OK. Unfortunately, I'd bet that the funding government would get cranky when other countries freely exploit the medicines that the one government paid for. Citizens of countries that fund pharma R&D might reasonably object to shouldering all the burden of developing new medicines for the whole world. Does anyone think the UN would be an effective body for funding the rapid development of new drugs?

    Finally, patents are a form of open access (at least in the U.S.). Patents force companies to publish their inventions. This gives competitors a leg up in innovating around any new patented process. Its not as open as the proposed Biological Innovation for Open Society (BIOS) program, but the current system is not as closed as detractors would have you believe.
    • by Apogee (134480) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:43PM (#7599599)
      I think I do see your point, but I guess a distinction can be made between tools, i.e. methods, reagents, protocols (and to some extent labware) that are necessary for basic science and the drug development process. In the end, cheap access to basic biotech techniques may be beneficial for big pharma, as well, cutting down research costs.

      There are some things on the market in biotech where the distributor (typically the company didn't invent it, they bought the rights from a university) are more or less monopolizing a technique, with the help of patents and license agreements. And the price that you pay at university for this stuff is - while it's expensive - nothing to the price big pharma has to spend for the same thing. I am not talking about hi-tech equipment, but for instance a method + all the reagents to create stably transfected cell lines (that is, a cell that expresses a newly inserted gene). Sure, the work of the person who built up the system needs to be acknowledged, but the price for this kit is just a phantasy price.

      In the end, I think, big pharma wouldn't suffer all that much, and neither would drug development
      • I think I do see your point, but I guess a distinction can be made between tools, i.e. methods, reagents, protocols (and to some extent labware) that are necessary for basic science and the drug development process. In the end, cheap access to basic biotech techniques may be beneficial for big pharma, as well, cutting down research costs.

        These are good points -- R&D tools are a bit more removed from the horrible economics of the new drug application process. (What is the success rate of new tools? W
  • Done Deal (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:24PM (#7599393)
    pubmed [nih.gov]

    golden path [ucsc.edu]

    bioconducter [bioconductor.org]

    public library of science [plos.org]

    gnumeric [gnome.org]

    cluster analysis [lbl.gov]

    etc. etc. etc.

    What's the BFD ??? A lot of scientists are on the open source bandwagon and have been for years. Walmart's coming to town and the Ivory Towers are falling.

  • Common Sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spoonboy42 (146048) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:24PM (#7599394)
    Well, the impact of this all depends on what is meant by "tools". A lot of the tools of the trade for genetic research (lysing and ligand enzymes, PCR machines, etc.) can easily be purchased from many scientific suppliers, and the methods for creating such tools are well enough known that they can easily be replicated (at my old high school, I kid you not, the Biology teacher and some students constructed a fully functional home-made PCR setup using off-the-shelf hobbyist robotics compnents).

    Now, what I'm thinking is that this fellow is proposing "open research". This is a direct reaction to the flurry of biotech patents we've seen over the last few years. Instead of jeleaously gaurding any new biotechnological inventions or discoveries, they would be shared with the community and opened up for peer review. My, that sounds familiar... maybe because it's what the process of scientific inquiry has depended on for centuries. In fact, you might recall that when RMS founded the FSF, his goal was to rekindle the spirit of "software as science" that had existed in the early days of computing. In the days of "biotech as business", scientific openness is an old idea whose time has once again come.
    • Never mind the tools..what I want is a Pizza Plant! [gmbiotech.com]
    • A PCR machine is really nothing more than a heating device with a fairly accurate controller. Not sure what robotics components they needed, unless they did the old multiblock thing (keep four blocks are the cyclical temps, moving the plate instead of changing the temp of just one block)...

      The patent on PCR machines isn't too far from running out (I think...), the expense is really in the polymerase enzymes needed.
      • Note that there was a huge battle over PCR, as Perken-Elmer Cetus owned the patent. Other companies could not sell "PCR Machines" without licensing the rights, and instead had to sell "Thermal Cyclers". Ditto for taq polymerase.
      • Yep, you're exactly right. We constructed a multiblock design and controlled the whole thing with an Apple IIe.

        Incidentally, PCR was patented in 1993, if I recall properly, meaning the patent has at least another decade on it. And yes, polymerase is irritatingly expensive.
  • by John Hawks (624818) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:29PM (#7599455)
    I don't know what this guy is talking about. You can already do substantial genetic research with freely available tools and data from the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. A major area of granting by both NIH and NSF is the creation of open source or freely available software for genetic research. I would say that bioinformatics is one of the most active areas for free software development today. I would say that the largest problem in biotech is not that tools are closed access, but that companies can patent biological and genetic information that they discover with their open access, publically developed tools.
    • True, bioinformatics is indeed a fantastic open-source playground, due to NIH and other agencies generous granting, as well as the fact that most bix'ers I know are avid open source supporters.

      In the wet lab, the situation is different, though, and I believe that's what Dr. Jefferson has set his sights on, correct me if I am wrong, though.
      • Agreed, he does refer mainly to chemical and laboratory techniques. But in these areas, universities are major instruments of closing access also. The largest sources of revenue for many universities are the patent portfolios developed for biomedical applications in university laboratories. These patents keep corporations from running away with the game, and keep corporate money flowing into university research. But universities typically allow licensees to develop subsidiary work quite freely--after all, n
        • I couldn't agree more with you.
          There has been a lot of pressure lately on universities to generate revenue by building up patent portfolios, which can be sold to companies. I have seen this fact also being used as an argument to hinder collaboration (especially by people with lots of influences).

          One anecdote (I can't name names, but I know the persons involved) is a highly cited researcher, who maintains an immense output of publications/year by forcing others that want to build on his previous work to col
  • by smd4985 (203677) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:30PM (#7599471) Homepage
    Wired [wired.com] has an interesting article related to this story. Summary: Open-Source as a design philosophy will be applied to an increasingly diverse set of disciplines.
  • by SexyKellyOsbourne (606860) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:32PM (#7599484) Journal

    Considering that the world is currently in a stage where third-world rogue nations, and not a duality of superpowers keeping each other in check, are developing high technology, especially weapons of mass destruction.

    While the implementation of open source programs and operating systems are great, genetic science is playing God by modifying organisms in irreperable ways, whether they're perceived to be good, bad, or sort of silly like those glowing fish. Even worse, such tools under skilled hands -- usually free university education in the west -- could be used to make gene-specific bioweapons or unstoppable virii like our army just did.

    Imagine their scientists getting a huge head start with "accessible" genetics tools under the iron fist of a dictator who would want to use them for blackmail, and then goes insane for one reason or another and acutally uses them. Even if they reached the level the US and the USSR were at in the 1970s or more realistically, the 1980s, with their research, it could still spell disaster.

    Most of this playing-God genetic stuff shouldn't even be developed in the first place, much less be made more accessible to the despots of the third world like an open source program.

    • I'm so sick of this meaningless "playing God" argument. First, no-one agrees on what "God" is or what it would mean to imitate Him. Second, by any reasonable interpretation of what "playing God" means, humanity has been doing it for millenia:

      1) Domestication of plants/animals
      2) Human-forced extinctions (the exitnction of smallpox was intentional, and there are more intentional extinctions to come, including some animals)
      3) Wholesale replacement of natural ecosystems with anthrocentric ecosystems (rural,
    • "Most" (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tepples (727027)

      Most of this playing-God genetic stuff shouldn't even be developed in the first place

      Genetic engineering produced synthetic human insulin and the anti-breast cancer medication Herceptin. How do you define "most"?

  • by randall_burns (108052) <randall_burns AT hotmail DOT com> on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:32PM (#7599489)
    Historically, major new industries have put new practices in place. Industrialization for example was a major part of the impulse behind universal, cumpulsory education in Germany.


    What I read here:

    Major portions of the biotech community feel their field would be enhanced by moving towards something more like the Open Source community. The implication of this is that the intellectual property rules may need to change a bit for this to really happen. What might motivate the powers that be to want to make this happen: most wealth/political power in the world is controlled by older folks. Biotech is especially important to the old because biotech has the serious possibility of extending human life spans-and more importantly extending the quality of human life. Basically the political elites have a choice:

    Continue playing their games-and die at age 70-85.

    Listen to the biotech folks and live comfortably an extra 15-30 years.


    I think that the powers-that-be will choose the second choice. We'll see a greater mix in means of rewarding inventors as the biotech revolution develops.

  • Past tense (Score:2, Informative)

    "...just as computer programming tools were shared in the open source software movement."

    Were? As in... the OSS movement that is complete?

    Not sure how I feel about this idea - to speed up progress research should be shared, but individual benefits should also drive that research. Why would you go into biophysics if your work wasn't going to pay off? (I know there are other reasons, but money's still at the top of most people's list).
  • by sbma44 (694130) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:35PM (#7599529)
    I don't know how we're going to restrict the spread of advanced biotech knowledge, but I wish I did. Yeah, information wants to be free -- I agree, until that information can kill people. In fifteen years an undergrab microbio degree will be enough to create a plague. The methods won't require particularly exotic reagents and the equipment won't be hard to get.

    This is not equivalent to the debate over publishing exploit source. There is no guarantee that biological countermeasures can be created to counteract bio-malware, so increasing the pool of exploit-related knowledge is not to our benefit. Besides which, people will die while we wait for the equivalent of patches to be submitted.

    Is it possible to amend the GPL to prohibit its use for distributing potentially dangerous biological information -- something like the ebola genome? Perhaps a review board could be established for biological information that is to be distributed under the GPL. I realize this does nothing to stop the information's spread under a different scheme, but at least it might discourage the foolish from cross-applying OSS principles to arenas where they most decidedly do NOT belong.

    • by Apogee (134480) on Monday December 01, 2003 @01:09PM (#7599918)
      Since when has 'restricting the spread of advanced XYZ knowledge' ever worked? Sure, the RIAA/MPAA would love to contain the spreading of the dangerous knowledge that you can use file sharing programs, and microsoft would love to keep all the advances knowledge about how to build an OS secret. After all, knowing how an OS works could arguably lead to damages and lives lost, like hacking into a power grid (yes, I am becoming a bit melodramatic, I'll stop now, I promise).

      My point is: It's a bad idea to restrict the spread of knowledge, since we simply can't. Good textbooks about biology will teach you a fair bit about molecular biology, and lab techniques. All this can be used for good or for bad purposes, as with (almost) all technology. So how do you wish to contain this knowledge? Prohibit anyone from teaching biology? Or perhaps teach biology only in the US, thus protecting the homeland? (oops I am bitter again...)

      In that vein, do you think that amending the GPL would help in containing information? Bad people who are planning to kill usually don't worry too much about breaking the terms of a license. And as for the Ebola genome, it's here [nih.gov], courtesy of the NIH. And it is there, publicly available, since some people are actually wanting to study it to find a remedy, and fortunately, they are not all employed by the USAMRIID or DoD but are all over the world.
      • Well, I believe that Britain kept the secrets of the industrial revolution secret from the rest of Europe for about a generation. Things like "how to connect a steam engine to a mill" that seem, in retrospect, obvious. Of course, part of the reason they were able to was that France,Germany, etc. basically weren't interested. (I'm not sure that it didn't pass over to Holland, though.)

    • " I don't know how we're going to restrict the spread of advanced biotech knowledge, but I wish I did."

      We're not. Deal with it.
  • Good stuff, the more areas of human activity that the free software way of producing things spreads to the better, another science thing is featured on the front page of Creative Commons [creativecommons.org] at the moment, PLoS:

    The Public Library of Science [publiclibr...cience.com] is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making the world's scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource. PLoS emerged in October 2000 through the effort of three dynamic and highly respected scientists: Nobel Laureate [nobel.se] and former head of the Nationa [nih.gov]

  • So, when can I pick up my own personal mouse with a functioning hand growing off it's back?
  • by Space cowboy (13680) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:42PM (#7599591) Journal
    For the last few hundred years, commerce has been the driving goal behind human development, barring the occasional major war... The reasons are based in the costs of production, dissemination, and utilisation of knowledge and materials, versus the potential profit of using that information.

    One new factor is communication, which has advanced to the level where no great expense is required for long-distance communications. Merchant princes rose and fell by their application of knowledge that others didn't have, today we have near-as-dammit instant communication with negligible costs. We pay people in other countries, and have a truly global market.

    There is another new factor coming into play: zero- (or at least, minimal) cost goods.Until recently, manufacturing costs were per-copy of an object, now we deal in abstract knowledge more often, recreating the object we desire locally. This obviously doesn't apply to real physical objects, but how often do we download models, music, video, programs, and data. There is negligible duplication costs involved here, so costs can be amortised over the whole collection, and are far less per item.

    Perhaps we can see forward to a future where digital assets have limited protection; the competitive advantage of being first compensating for the lower barrier-to-entry for companies. The first steps towards a truly creative commons, open to all without restriction. If such a thing were ever to become reality, the GPL or a similar (not-for-profit-without-forking-out-dosh) licence would be ideal. In that case, I think we'd all be significantly more grateful to RMS than we are today...

    Or perhaps not. (And I leave the reader to decide which point I refer to with 'not' :-)

    Simon
  • Anyone else read that as "The opening of Bieotch?"

    According to this article [slashdot.org], I'm probably not alone.
  • The idea of bureaucratic clones in a corporate hive benefiting, without reciprocation, from the biotech innovations of grassroots technologists is even more repugnant than such parasitic phenomena in traditional information technology.

    Clause 2.b of the GPL [gnu.org] has been interpreted by everyone from Richard Stallman to Bruce Perens to mean that the larger the organization the less likely they are to publish derivative works because internal distribution is not covered under the GPL. Like many tax policies that

  • by lockholm (703003) on Monday December 01, 2003 @01:34PM (#7600176)
    The point that Jefferson is trying to get across is not that patents should be outlawed (his group's idea is that end products can be sold, but that tools should be shared) or that big biotech companies should not succeed, but rather that the ultimate goal of those companies is to make money for themselves. Large profits do not lie in creating useful technologies for developing countries, they lie in creating wonder drugs for the rich fraction of the world.

    This is no different from the technologies applied to American crops, it's just that the idea is to make it easier for poor countries and their citizens to help solve their own problems. Seems to me that this wouldn't affect big business all that much, and it could give a real boost to the places and people that really need it.

    And really, the evil terrorists who want to develop the WMD - are they going to sit around saying "well, if only we weren't limited by those dratted patent laws?" No. This idea is pretty much designed to help those who need it - the evildoers don't really need any help.

  • awesome (Score:3, Funny)

    by mabu (178417) * on Monday December 01, 2003 @01:40PM (#7600242)
    This would be cool. With open-source biotech, it would likely be a matter of months before we'd have single-celled creatures capable of administering Quake servers!
  • A few years ago I wrote a little molecular biology helper program to use in my graduate studies. Slapped the GPL on it and made it available for download on my site. This was before the age of sourceforge.net and all the other modern facilities. It stayed up for about 2 years, and was downloaded about 20 times in all. Then I changed ISPs several and the original page didn't make it to the new one.

    I may still have the source code somewhere - maybe I'll put it up again if I can find it, or maybe set a source
  • by sirgoran (221190) on Monday December 01, 2003 @02:16PM (#7600657) Homepage Journal
    If it means I'll get my flying monkey-man or dogs that spit bees, I'm all over it!

    -Goran
  • Bio Perl & CPAN (Score:2, Informative)

    by atherton2 (728611)
    BioPerl.org, biojava.org and CPAN have loads of useful tools, functions and modules for the biological programmer (bioinformatition) out there, this is all free and mostly great.
  • The guy wants

    "free access to the scientific tools of modern biology and genetics...just as computer programming tools were shared in the open source software movement...

    Last time I checked, a computer that gets a new and nasty kind of virus can still be cleaned up and restarted. A human that gets a new and nasty kind of virus may not be so lucky.

    It's a big assumption to suppose there is any useful analogy between open source for computer code and for biological materials! It would be a potential huma
  • Biotech != Medicine (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DNAman (561905)

    Dr. Jefferson is interested in agricultural biotechnology. While most people who commented on this article have equated biotechnology to medical research, this is not the area in which open science is most needed. It is in the agricultural sector where funding is tight, profit margins slim and there was a long history of sharing materials and methods in the public (even private) sector that open science is desperately needed. In the 1980s, the ability to patent methods and living things in combination with

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI

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