Open-Source Biotech

Posted on June 25, 2006  Comments (1)

Open-Source Biotech:

Mr. Jefferson, the man credited with inventing one of the main tools used in plant genetic engineering, started his campaign in 1987 by doing what the big companies that dominate agricultural biotech rarely do: He shared his discovery of beta-glucuronidase gene (GUS), an indicator that tells where a gene is, how much it expresses, and when it acts.

GUS is widely credited for enabling many breakthroughs in plant biotech, including the development of one of Monsanto’s first and most profitable agricultural products, Roundup Ready soybeans. Mr. Jefferson first provided GUS and all the know-how to use it for free to hundreds of labs around the world.

When he secured his patents, he charged only what people could afford: Monsanto, he says, paid a substantial amount; academics and companies in the developing world, including those who wanted to use his work for commercial purposes, received it free of charge.


The software to run this blog is open source freeware: WordPress. Great advances have been made possible by the adoption of open source software.

His distant uncle, Thomas Jefferson, would approve, says Mr. Jefferson. The historical Mr. Jefferson established patents solely to further the public good. For the modern-day Mr. Jefferson, ensuring that principle is kept is a matter of unfinished family business.

In, The Public Domain, Lawrence Lessig examines the un-balance created over the last few decades in laws between the public good and the private rewards. He founded the Creative Commons a way for intellectual property owners to share explicitly share their rights so others may build upon them for the benefit of society.

Patent law exists to benefit society. The rights granted to the private owners was meant to benefit society by providing a reward for those innovating. And that is a needed. However many seem to have forgotten the fundamental principle is societal benefits with individual profits being the method to benefit society.

Movements like open source are partially born out of frustration with the unbalanced state we have reached. We need to improve this area by re-balancing the system of rights. Open source is a way for people to make sure what they work on goes to benefit society and is not locked away. It is one good way to move in the right direction but it is not the only solution.

Innovation and the Creative Commons

One Response to “Open-Source Biotech”

  1. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Open Access Legislation
    September 21st, 2006 @ 7:30 pm

    [...] by curiouscat   Tags: Science, Research, Higher Education, Open Access   Permalink to: Open Access Legislation if (minute > 20){ } else { } [...]

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