Synthetic biology is going to change our world. With synthetic biology, technologies straight out of science fiction novels – bacteria that eat plastics, the ability to terraform mars, and the cure to all cancers – will become our reality.
The technologies that emerge from synthetic biology are going to have a significant impact on society and our world. However, the biggest impact from synthetic biology will not come from the technologies, but rather from the people and institutions that have ownership over the technologies. This is the case with the computer industry today, as our computer environment is shaped just as much by the creation of computers as it is by the companies that control these technologies – Microsoft, Apple, and Intel are the face of modern computing, just as much as is the computer itself.
Researchers, engineers and the public are concerned with developing synthetic biology technologies and studying how these technologies will shape the world. Despite this, precious little attention is paid to intellectual property, and the impact ownership and control over synthetic biology technologies will have on the world. Indeed, most researchers gloss over the subtleties of intellectual property, instead choosing to focus on the huge impacts their research can have on society. This blog aims to change that: the goal of this blog is to help stimulate more interest and robust discussion in both the scientific and public communities. We want to make researchers aware of just how significant intellectual property rights are to the future of synthetic biology, and we want to help the public understand the relationship between the technologies and the ownership of these technologies.
We are the Boston University 2016 iGEM Wetlab and Hardware teams. (If you’d like to learn more about what we are actually doing, follow the links!) Throughout this blog we will be discussing a handful of topics related to intellectual property in synthetic biology, writing under the pen names Castor and Pollux (for an explanation of these names, look below). We will be looking into the legal battles over CRISPR, the history of software property and the role it plays in synthetic biology property rights, and so much more 🙂
Explanation of our pen names
In Greek and Roman mythology, Castor and Pollux (otherwise known as Polydeuces) were twin brothers together known as the Dioskouri in Greek, or Gemini in Latin. Though both were sons of Leda, Castor (in some accounts) was the son of the mortal king Tyndareus while Pollux was the son of Zeus. (We are also confused about how that is possible). They were fierce warriors, serving as Argonauts on the hero Jason’s ship the Argo, participating in the hunt of the Calydonian boar (which was giant pig that kept ravaging villages and killing people, so it had to go), and rescuing their half-sister Helen who was abducted by Theseus this one time. Tragedy struck when (after a long and complicated series of events that we won’t go into here) Castor was fatally wounded by his cousin Lynceus in an ambush. Pollux killed Lynceus (and in the process was nearly killed by Lynceus’s twin brother Idas), but it was too late; Castor was dying. By his brother’s side, Pollux was given the option by his father Zeus to either spend all his time in Mount Olympus or to share his immortality with his brother so that they evenly split their time in Hades and Mount Olympus. Pollux, unable to live without his brother, decided to share his immortality, and so Zeus transformed the Gemini brothers into the Gemini constellation. The brothers have since become the patrons of sailors, to whom they appear as St. Elmo’s fire (a weather phenomenon where “fire” appears at the tips of ship’s masts before a storm, warning sailors).
How is any of this relevant to this blog?
The BU iGEM Wetlab team is working on Gemini, a system that will enable researchers to produce digitized analog gene expression in human cells (follow above link for full details). The BU iGEM Hardware team is developing a software tool called Neptune that will enable researchers to quickly and cheaply build microfluidics (follow other above link for full details). Both names Gemini and Neptune derive from Greek and Roman mythology, and we believed that using the pen names Castor and Pollux – known together as Gemini and who together protect sailors in Neptune’s domain (Neptune is the God of the Seas) – was a great way to represent the collaboration between our two teams in this effort.