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Biotech Science

The Opening of Biotech 200

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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  • 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?

  • Done Deal (Score:4, Informative)

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

    golden path []

    bioconducter []

    public library of science []

    gnumeric []

    cluster analysis []

    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.

  • Re:It's a neat idea. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:26PM (#7599418)
    In every nation in the world where there is still widespread hunger, the problem is not the lack of food, but the presense of tyranny.

    Starvation is now almost exclusively a political problem.

  • 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.
  • Past tense (Score:2, Informative)

    by lukewarmfusion ( 726141 ) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:34PM (#7599503) Homepage Journal
    "...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 mrtroy ( 640746 ) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:49PM (#7599660)
    Canadian drugs ARE NOT THE SAME. In some cases, yes. But how exactly do you think those drugs can be sold at a profit for so much less? In many cases, they are made out of country, at place with far fewer quality controls. In other cases, they are made out of country, where pollution and the discarding of some of the toxic by-products are not regulated.
    It has nothing to do with pollution, or quality. First off, Canada actually follows the Kyoto Protocol and has stricter pollution controls than the US. Secondly, it has to do with competition, monopolies, and different marketplaces. They are identical drugs.

    The prices in Canada are lower because, frankly, the testing isn't as thorough, the administration isn't as monitored, the quality is not as controlled, and frankly, as the Head of Illinois Pharmaceuticals pointed out when the Illinois state government considered outsourcing drugs to Canada - their drugs really ARE second rate in many cases.

    I hate to break the news to you, but most of the prescription drugs in this world are produced, researched, and tested by a very few corporations. THEY ARE THE SAME DRUGS. I do not know how you think these drugs differ. Pfizer makes Viagra. Canadian Viagra is produced by Pfizer. American Viagra is produced by Pfizer. Canadian viagra is cheaper, due to marketplace, blah blah blah. So Americans choose to import a case of viagra.

    If anything, Canada has a more strict system than the US. And you do not see Canadians getting sick from prescription drugs. So why is this importing of them going to magically make people sick? I dont see the link
  • by Apogee ( 134480 ) on Monday December 01, 2003 @12:49PM (#7599661)
    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.
  • by John Hawks ( 624818 ) on Monday December 01, 2003 @01:05PM (#7599859)
    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, new applications only increase the licensing fees on their old patents.

    I think what is going on here is that some researchers get blocked out of research in their preferred areas because of a history of scientific conflicts with others. Science is "share and share alike" until someone is either perceived as a freeloader or publishes critically against powerful interests. The power to limit resource access becomes an informal adjunct to peer review. I think this system is deplorable in many ways, and opening access to all such resources might be preferable.
  • 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.

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

    by atherton2 ( 728611 ) on Monday December 01, 2003 @02:43PM (#7600952), and CPAN have loads of useful tools, functions and modules for the biological programmer (bioinformatition) out there, this is all free and mostly great.

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN