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Google Accused of Bio-piracy 248

Posted by Zonk
from the ahoy-maties-turn-over-those-ribonucleic-acids-if-you-please dept.
Simon Phillips writes "ZDNet is reporting that Google has been accused of being the 'biggest threat to genetic privacy' this year for its plan to create a searchable database of genetic information. From the article: 'Google was presented with an award as part of the Captain Hook Awards for Biopiracy in Curitiba, Brazil, this week. The organisers allege that Google's collaboration with genomic research institute J. Craig Venter to create a searchable online database of all the genes on the planet is a clear example of biopiracy.'"
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Google Accused of Bio-piracy

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  • Avast! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GundamFan (848341) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:00AM (#15025975)
    Biopiracy? doesn't that imply theft? how are they getting this genetic material? O.o
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:09AM (#15026039)
    How the same people that go and bitch about the RIAA labelling things as music piracy can turn around and embrace the same concept when it applies to the underdog rather than the establishment is beyond me.

    Sure, one can say that it isn't fair that the RIAA gets away with it but Venezuela does not. That is 100% correct. But when one embraces the propaganda techniques of the enemy when it can be used to defend the underdogs serves nothing other than to discredit us. And not to mention, it does nothing to further the cause.
  • by Machina Fortuno (963320) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:10AM (#15026052)
    I mean really though. If I were them I would be welcoming Google.

    Increased interest in a project such as the Genome project would help, correct? And what is there to steal really? And who is going to care... I highly doubt that the kind of people who would download part of the Genome project and the people who download movies illegal are anywhere near the same breed. Sometimes I think people are just picking on Google, hehe. Google is simply going for their mission statement I suppose... I think it would be pretty crazy to have a public database of all of this shit. Haha, maybe the scientists don't really have anything anyways, and are doing this to cover it up :P. Like they just sat around playing with cats and never leanred anything, rofl.

    and yes, "bio-piracy" sounds like possibly the dumbest term to ever be filed against Google.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:24AM (#15026146)
    You run your research lab based on facts from Google?

    The first thing you learn, is the internet is not a reliable source of research information. Have fun on the day you do that google for how much bentonite to put into the beaker, and find out the paper you got it from on the internet was only a draft, not peer reviewed, and had a decimal point in the wrong place.
  • P.R. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stacybro (757940) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:28AM (#15026167) Homepage
    This has got to be P.R. hooha. Somebody said: "How can we get some free P.R.? Lets attack somebody huge, pretend we are oppressed and maybe end up on slashdot..."
  • by DaoudaW (533025) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:29AM (#15026175)
    1. Biopiracy isn't primarily about the human genome.
    2. Information wants to be free.
    3. Indigenous populations have created/discovered many plant varieties useful for pharmaceuticals.
    4. Plant varieties found in indigenous agriculture often have disease resistance or other desirable characteristics which modern hybrids have lost.
    5. When someone has something of value from which you can profit, you should be willing to share the profit with them.

    ... from which many ethical and legal issues can and do arise.
  • TGFG (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Pedrito (94783) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:35AM (#15026223) Homepage
    Thank God For Google. They seem to be one of the few companies that actually gets the fact that information wants to be free. On top of which, it's just absolutely absurd that ANYONE other than God can get a patent on genetic sequences. It kind of reminds me of that old joke, "In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first make an apple." Anyone who can do that deserves to get the patent for the genetic sequence of an apple.

    That's kind of like getting a patent for the number pi. That would actually be a good one. If you have the patent to the decimal sequence that makes up pi, you could really argue that you have a patent on everything, including every genetic sequence. Theoretically, pi will contain every conceivable sequence of digits somewhere in its infinitely long sequencey and thus, anything that can be encoded as a sequence of digits (movies, music, books, genes), can be found somewhere in pi. Therefore, the patent holder for pi is the patent holder for everything. QED.
  • by kusanagi374 (776658) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @12:00PM (#15026438)
    Quite simple. Because those genes are taken from natively Brazilian plants and animals, used abroad for research then patented. So, if a local small industry decides they want to use that plant for something (a native plant) they must pay royalties to a corporation from a FOREIGN COUNTRY, usually a country where such plants/animals don't exist.

    That's what they classify as bio-piracy. Steal native elements from a country and patent them as a property of your corporation, then sell it back to that very country or charge for royalties.
  • by Dark Coder (66759) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @12:17PM (#15026585)
    What do all these searchable charts have in common?

    Periodic Table
    Protien Family
    Acidic/Alkalinity
    Ionization Excitement
    DNA strand markers

    All are tools in which we make our stepping stones into a better or worse life for us and others (not always in that order).

    If worsen quality of life can be had, then it becomes an issue of "scientific terrorism" and it should be controlled (however fluid it may be).

    If it improves the quality of our life, then it is "scientific knowledge."

    I'm ok with Bio-piracy of DNA until someone comes along and "worsen" things for humanity. Take "target DNA elimination" for example. Can anyone say bio-ethnic cleansing and getting rid of cancer-causing cells in the same sentence, yet?
  • Re:Stupid. (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 30, 2006 @12:18PM (#15026595)
    Hi - i'm from the Coalition against Biopiracy who organised the award ceremony... here's some answers:

    Firstly Biopiracy is a well established concept amongst indigenous and farmers movements who oppose the manner in which pharma and biotech companies appropriate plants, medicines and gene sequences that have traditionally belonged to Peoples and then develop drugs, GM crops, medical testing kits and so forth without either the permission or sharing of profits from those whom they took the knowledge from in the first place. Indeed the word is even in the Oxford English Dictionary. Here at the UN convention on Biological Diversity (currently meeting in Curritiba, brazil) 188 governments are arguing over exactly this issue - under the UNspeak title of 'Access and Benefit Sharing'.

    Corporations regard genomic information as the new 'gold' of the biotechnology age. Since they have the unique tools to process and convert gene sequences into profitable revenue they stand to profit in ways that the rest of us can't. They privatise the information by dint of their control over technology and specialised knowledge. Indigenous peopels and local communities regard their genetic resources as a heritage which they have stewarded over hundreds of thousands of years and not just another free resouce for transnational industry to spin profits from. Regardless of whether its patented or not the act of taking these resources and turning them into genomic code ready for industrial use shouldn't happen without prior informed consent and any further use of that data for generating corporate profits should also be explicitly consented to by the communities whose genetic information is being appropriated.

    Unfortunately the partner that Google have chosen has the worst record of them all in terms of biopiracy. Craig Venter not only set the model for trying to privatise the human genome through his work at Celera genomics - he was also the first person to take out patents on human genes. rather than regard genomes as our common heritage. Venter more than anyone else represents the attempt to turn our basic biological heritage into a exclusive business model for the well capitalised few.

    The questions that we find ourselves asking about this collaboration are: Whose genes are google intending to store (google seems to claim they will store everybodys genes!) and with what consent? How will Google prevent the pharmaceutical and biotech industry taking that information to boost their own profit? How will they ensure that the original people from whom the information is taken retain the right to refuse the inappropriate use of their genomic information...

    In traditional biopiracy, the bioprospectors who take plants and organisms from their native habitat and pass them to the gene giants always claim that they are not the biopirates but they are merely passing on freely available specimens - that its the biotech and pharma companies that are the bad guysfor trying to turn a profit from these - but by making this information accessible (and making a profit along the way too- in googles case through advertising revenue) they are facilitating the theft of genetic information and later enclosure of that when the genes are incorporated into a product which is itself patented.

    There are lots of other examples of biopiracy every year - we gave 20 awards this year - Google was just one. However its is a legitimate award since Google could well become a significant conduit in the future by which genes and gene sequences get stolen for private profit.

    Jim
  • Re:I do not get it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DingerX (847589) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @12:18PM (#15026602) Journal
    Well,here's the deal. There is a situation on the ground, and there are the causes and principles.

    The situation on the group is that Genetically Manipulated stocks are appearing on the market. Point 1) some people have a fear of genes as part of Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know.
    Genetics have great promise: GM foods they can produce high yields, resist pests, drouts, all kinds of things. They could greatly relieve world hunger and all kinds of other stuff.
    Point 2) in spite of great promise, we have a patent system in effect here. Companies are scouring the world for certain genetic traits in plants, then patenting them and reselling them. They then "manage their rights" by engineering sterile seeds, or milling the seeds before they provide them to famine-struck regions. So your dirt-poor third world farmer suddenly sees his plants being used, the genes being taken, then sold back in a "BRM-d form" so that the big drunk companies get rich.
    Genetic testing can improve people's lives: ask anyone who's had a cancer identified via a mutation; Likewise Genetic therapy.
    Point 3) Sure they can save lives, but the human genomes are being patented, and people are making money off of our inherent makeup.
    Point 4) Only rich companies and individuals have the means to play with genes this way. So by google putting this information out, they are favoring the exploitation of the poor by the rich.

    That's the thought underlying it as near as I can make out: it's a combination of irrational fear of the unknown, outrage at shameless exploitation committed in the name of being humanitarian, perfectly reasonable resistance to the closed nature of information, and populist distrust of the motives of the rich and powerful.

    google falls into categories one and four more than two and three, which is why most researchers are confused by the ranking. To the other side, the exploitation and privatization of common goods is part and parcel of the capitalist system.

    Personally, I'm in favor of mapping all the genes out. And I've got a lovely mutation I'd love to get rid of.
  • Re:Aaargghhh! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shawb (16347) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @12:57PM (#15026986)
    I can see the logic behind the people that handed out the award. Google sort of automates part of the process of finding useful genes in the huge database. By doing this, they indeed allow some companies access to information that could lead to a patent based on this genetic information. Where the argument has any teeth at all is the fact that putting this info online does nothing for the native people from whom the information was originally taken. Most of these people 1)have no computer or internet access 2)even if they did wouldn't have the equipment or training to be able to do anything with the raw genetic data and 3)wouldn't have the legal pull or capital required to actually patent the information.

    And yes, "biopiracy" is actually a real problem. Basically, researchers come in to fairly indigenous areas and ask the shamans/etc about local plants used in traditional remedies. They then bring these back and analyze them to find which, if any, of the compounds are effecting the cure. The company they work for then takes out a patent on the compound, figures out a method to mass produce it, run through standard FDA tests then start selling the chenical in little pills. The problem comes when the company turns around and sues the natives for violating their patents by using the compound in their traditional remedies... even though the natives have been doing this for generations and generations (3rd world lawyers aren't all that up on their IP law, and often the drug corps are more powerful than the country the natives reside in.) So, these people are now left without a cure for some disease or ailment, and have nowhere near enough money to pay for the pills that contain the compound they used to be able to get for free from the forest or swamp.

    Why would the drug corps do something so blatantly evil? It's not that they want these people to go without treatment, it's that they don't want people who are already buying their products to switch to the natural form. If the plant/fungus/whatever is already well known and easilly grown in large parts of the area, then the drug corps take different measures to reduce access: drug laws. Marijuana and Opium do have some medical uses, but growing the plants in your backyard does not give the drug corps money, so the government will not and does not recognize those uses. So it becomes illegal to grow marijuana in your backyard. Even more insidious, poppy flowers are perfectly legal to grow unless it can be proven that you know how to make a drug out of them (I'll ruin it for you all: split open a seed pod, boil in water, drink. Not as labor intensive as americans have been led to believe. Also, it can be done just as effectively with any variety of poppy: the idea that certain opium poppies which only grow in particular climates such as afghanistan are a red herring thown out to prevent people from figuring out how to make their own drugs, whether recreational or pharmaceutical.)

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