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'An Open Future for Biotech?'

New Agriculturalist,  March 01, 2005

Author: Anne Moorhead

Opening paragraphs from the article found in Focus on Biotechnology:

Rapid advances in biotechnology have brought in their wake an increasingly complex maze of patents and licensing. Large multinational companies are best positioned to navigate and exploit these arcane rules and restrictions. But, as the problems of the developing world are rarely high on corporate agendas, the benefits of biotechnology have yet to trickle down to the world's poorest people.

Now this sorry state of affairs may be set to change. A call has gone out to molecular biologists worldwide to join an 'open access' movement for biological innovation. Such a movement could level the playing field for researchers around the world, as well as stimulate innovation by encouraging wider participation. The founders of Biological Innovation for Open Society (BIOS) have proposed developing a suite of tools that are freely available under open-access licences. Modelled on open-source software licences, these protect the technologies and any improvements to them from restrictive patents, ensuring that they remain freely available to those who would use them.

To help launch this initiative, a new method of gene transfer was recently published in Nature* that could come to compete with the widely used but highly patent-protected Agrobacterium-mediated gene-transfer technique. Agrobacterium tumefaciens, a soil bacterium, induces galls on plants by transferring a piece of its DNA. This discovery, a quarter of a century ago, laid the foundation for genetic engineering in plants. Today Agrobacterium gene transfer is the method most commonly used to transfer genes in plants.

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