Monday, September 10, 2007

Liberating biotechnology: Watch this video

I chanced on A LAMP Stack For The Life Sciences. "What's this?" I thought, "Surely a non-problem, a LAMP stack is well known" (its an open source computer science thing that underpins much of the Internet) "Why is there a video on it?" So clicking on I found a marvelous Google Tech Talk by Richard Jefferson of CAMBIA on biological innovation for open society.

CAMBIA's mission is thus
"CAMBIA is an independent, international non-profit institute. For more than a decade, CAMBIA has been creating new technologies, tools and paradigms to foster collaboration and life-sciences enabled innovation. These tools are designed to enable disadvantaged communities and developing countries to meet their own challenges in food security, health, and natural resource management."
Jefferson maintains that if you really want to change the world its identify a method that allows others to do things. And this is what his talk boils down to (with excuses for gross simplifications):
  • Change the biological innovation system by working around the patent system with open licences.
  • Provide tools for people to use in their own situations; thus, e.g., empower ordinary farmers by giving them plants which provide a soil constituent analysis, e.g. leaf tips turn orange if there is less than a certain level of nitrogen in the soil, enabling the farmers to then decide what to do, take out a loan to buy urea or plant plants to increase the nitrogen levels in the soil.
OK, there is a mass of interesting stuff there but suffice it, in the interests of saving me time writing this to just quote Jefferson's abstract from the video:
"It is commonplace to regard health crises, sickness, malnutrition, famine and natural resource collapse as overwhelming problems of our world, typically associated with poverty. Rather, they are symptoms of a more fundamental failing in how we deal with the world, and to whom we give the tools to engage. Four billion poor people are not just a problem, they are world's greatest resource for problem solving. What we lack are the norms, the tools and the mechanisms to harness and empower their commitment, their drive, their local knowledge and their creativity. But this is within our grasp. In this presentation, I will outline the real origins of Open Source - not the recent phenomenon in software development, but the very foundation of all of civilization: plant and animal domestication and breeding. Virtually every key element of productive, economically savvy Open Source innovation was developed and presaged by millenia of plant breeders and farmers who created the wealth upon which society is based. The engine room of civilization has been agriculture, but the fuel has been shared innovation. The problem is not solely multinational corporations gaming the patent system and the associated business practices. It is also the failure of public sector to engage creatively with their responsibilities. I will describe how the patent system has evolved (if indeed we can grace such an accretion of carbuncles with that glorious biological process) and how business practices and models are groaning under the weight of its excesses. I will also describe the enormous potential of modern informatics to parse and integrate this information so that anyone can understand and appreciate the landscape upon which innovation must operate, and can guide new business models that use shared and accessible tools to create myriad applications, products and services."
Watch it, or even, just run it in a background video.... it's truly fascinating.

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