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'Science Ideas that Could Change the World'

Asia News Network,  February 18, 2005

Author: Pana Janviroj, The Nation (Thailand)/The Korea Herald

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Editorial by Pana Janviroj, The Nation/Asia News Network

People from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures attended the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos last month. One group that found itself much in demand consisted of the scientists and technologists responsible for the work that will yield the future opportunities that will likely affect us all. Sessions like "five science ideas that may change the world" were over-subscribed.

And they ought to have been. Bright and innovative ideas are in demand not only among businesses, but also among nations. The Thai government, for instance, wants the country to leapfrog ahead by being at the forefront of nanotechnology research and development. Not since perhaps the "green revolution " in rice yields has Thailand harboured such grand ambitions.

At the "five science ideas" session, the panellists looked at the possible discoveries that could have the biggest impacts, whether positive or negative, on society in the foreseeable future. The panellists were eminent to say the least.

They included Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder and chairman of the MIT Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Baroness Susan Greenfield, of the Royal Institute of Great Britain; Sergey Brin, co-founder and president for technology at Google Inc; Richard Jefferson, chairman of Cambia, an international non-profit organization with a record of investing and sharing important molecular enabling technologies.

Biotec open-source specialist Jefferson was most philosophical in his vision. He said that the social structure that had given the rise to today's civilization had been made possible through changes in agriculture.

"Without agriculture we would have remained nomadic in our existence," he said.

The innovations that harnessed plants into crops came about via an "open source" process, he said. It was a matter of "cooperation and not competition" and it worked. Now, biology is being revisited to reinvent agriculture, food and nutrition.

He said that it was necessary to share biotech open-source ideas to help bring food to the several billion people who still live on less than $2 a day.