Bio-Commons a Global Challenge

Science has always been an international endeavor and challenges have always stemmed from this fact including national differences in freedom of travel and speech, national secrecy and competitiveness, and national security to name a few. Changes in information technology and the state of the life sciences in particular are creating new challenges and perhaps heightening old ones.

The policy forum paper “Research Funding: Sustaining the Data and Bioresource Commons” published today (October 29, 2010) in Science has some welcome viewpoints on these developments although I’m uncertain what they mean by the “globalization of scientific research” since, as stated above, science has always been global.

Simply stated, the global public needs information repositories that are globally accessible. At one time it was the library at Alexandria. Recently the large repositories have been national libraries like the U.S.A.’s Library of Congress. Most recently the Internet has become a major, if not the main, repository of global knowledge.

The issue of global access to life sciences data is particularly important right now. The project to understand life, including brain function, is producing vast amounts of data on mechanisms active at multiple scales of time and space.

We must create a virtual biomedical library for everyone. The data will be too vast for any mortal to read. The library will need to present its data visually and actively. That is, users will need to get into the data intuitively by working with a virtual brain, for instance, and actively investigating its various functions through simulations.

The way we share knowledge is going through radical shifts in the life sciences. Journal articles as we’ve known them have already changed and will change far more in the future. Humanity is on the cusp of perhaps its greatest project ever. By meeting the global challenge of a bio-commons we will attain levels of biological knowledge and medical practice far beyond what is currently possible.