Azara Blog: Open source biotech

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Date published: 2005/02/10

The BBC says:

A team of scientists has developed an "open-source" alternative to one of the most effective - but patent-protected - ways of genetically modifying plants.

Scientists need to pay for licences if they use Agrobacterium; thought to be the only bacterium able to transfer foreign genes into plants.

But new research in Nature shows other bacteria can carry out gene transfer.

This could allow scientists to avoid the complex patent licencing process, which some say stifles innovation.

The properties of Agrobacterium tumefaciens allow scientists to engineer any desired genes into the bacterial DNA and then insert them into plant genomes.

It has hundreds of patents issued on it, with biotech giants Monsanto and Syngenta amongst the significant rights holders.

The microbe, which causes plant tumours in the wild, is used widely in research. But patent rights are rarely enforced until scientists decide to commercialise the fruits of their work.
The team behind the Nature paper has also launched a collaborative research platform on the internet called BioForge, which will allow scientists to develop new technology within a protected "commons".

It is about time that some biologists are starting to follow the open source model of the computer world. The so-called environmentalists would have been a lot less successful with their hysterical campaign in the UK against GM food if there were less biotech patents so people could see a common good being served. Of course these so-called environmentalists should put their money where their mouth is and fund open-source biotech instead of wasting all their effort on scare mongering.

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