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Google Accused of Bio-piracy 248

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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  • by JoshDM ( 741866 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:07AM (#15026024) Homepage Journal
    We're gonna need the BioNinjas and BioZombies to come kick Google's @$$.
  • by mmell ( 832646 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:36AM (#15026252)
    Evidently, somebody felt their future revenue stream being threatened by publication of this data - hence the 'piracy' tag. It seems little more than a cynical ploy to preserve the closed-for-profit model that has been the rule in most research lately.

    The Human Genome Project was a collaborative effort, largely funded by government and public sources. The agencies involved in the research, however, seem to have a vested interest in keeping the data private, even going so far as to patent genetic sequences (isn't there "prior art" for all of my DNA? I call them "parents"). Freely available information, while often valuable, has no resale value. Can this be the true cause of The "Coalition Against Biopiracy" issueing what seems more like a political slander campaign than a genuine warning of wrongdoing?

    Perhaps we should ask:

    IPBN - Indigenous Peoples Biodiversity Network

    P.O. Box 567

    Cusco, Peru

    Phone: +51 84 24-5021


    SEARICE - South East Asia Regional Inititiaves in Community Empowerment

    Unit 331, Eagle Court Condominium

    26 Matalino Street, Central District

    Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines

    Phone: (63 2) 433-7182, 433-2067

    Fax: (63 2) 922-6710


    web: []

    ETC Group - Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration

    431 Gilmour St, Second Floor,

    Ottawa, ON Canada K2P 0R5

    Tel: 1(613)241-2267

    Fax: 1(613)241-2506


    web: []

  • Re:Stupid. (Score:5, Informative)

    by antarctican ( 301636 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @12:07PM (#15026500) Homepage
    So. Google is monopolizing genetic resources by putting genetic information online for free?

    I was thinking the same thing. If Google is putting this information online for all to use in research, how is that a bad thing?

    As a computer scientist who has been working in bioinformatics for over 3 years now, I've been calling for the "googlification" of genomics information ever since I discovered what a mess the community really is. You would not believe how many different databases, with different indexing systems there are out there. To actually do any useful research you first have to spend a month or two trying to make the pieces of data fit together.

    Our lab, and many other labs, actually have entire projects dedicated to finding ways to piece these disjoint datasets together for effective quering. This is a huge under-addressed problem in genomics.

    And genomic data goes far beyond just the human genome, that's only one small part. If someone could organize all the genomic formation across all the hundreds of genomes which have been sequenced, it would be a very very useful tool. The other half of the problem in genomics databases is half of them are NOT free and available for researchers without paying licensing fees. And to me, a far better use of research dollars is on actual research rather then paying licensing fees for data which was probably originally discovered with public research dollars to begin with. So if Google can open up all this sequence information, and more importantly the related information downstream from just the raw sequences such as pathway information, all the more power to them!

    The truth is most genomes ARE already available through sites like NCBI, you can download hundreds of eukaryotic, prokaryotic, and fungi genomes freely already. You can already find similarities between sequences across species through tools such as BLAST, or find orthologs across species with tools such as Ortholuge. I would assume what Google is doing is creating a better way to organize this. And Dr. Venter is already known for trying to find as many diverse genomic sequences as he can, and usually not human ones.

    This definitely seems to be panic over nothing, over something which could help genomic research a lot, and ultimately find better ways to protect humans against the nasty bugs out there.

    I for one welcome our new Google overlords.
  • by masklinn ( 823351 ) <> on Thursday March 30, 2006 @12:35PM (#15026755)

    Actually, genes are not copyrighted. You can patent genes though, even if there's allegely a prior art of a billion years, and you don't even need to create new genes to patent them, you merely need to "discover" them.

  • Re:Aaargghhh! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lars Arvestad ( 5049 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @01:43PM (#15027418) Homepage Journal
    From what I have heard and read (and now checked at Venter's own instutute's web site []) his group is actually only sampling the oceans for microbial DNA. They have a nice sailboat and make no secret of where they are going.

    This makes the whole assertion even more stupid, since no country/ethnic group/publicity-seeking self-proclaimed human-rights experts can claim to own or control or have rights to that pool of DNA.

    It is a very odd stunt indeed. But I guess there is an appreciating audience for this stuff too.

  • by dialogue22 ( 964719 ) on Friday March 31, 2006 @12:44PM (#15034633)
    The Captain Hook Award to Google in the category of "worst threat to genetic privacy," has attracted some strong reaction. A few people have written in Google's defense, claiming that Google isn't a biopirate and that the Coalition Against Biopiracy is wrong to name them. They argue that it isn't biopiracy because Google will not be patenting the genomic information they will be storing -- and, since anyone can access the information, its not monopolistic. They point out that this approach is actually anti-monopolistic because the genomic information would be freely available to everyone. And if genomic information is easily available, Google's defenders point out, it is more likely to facilitate the discovery of cures and new medical breakthroughs.

    Here's our response:

    First, the award wasn't for 'biopiracy' it was specifically for posing a 'threat to genetic privacy'. Even if Google makes all the genomic data it holds anonymous -- it is still possible to identify an individual's data by genetic fingerprinting. On Google Video, Google has a video of an internal talk on genomic databases where the speaker admits this is a big potential problem, and a troubling issue that Google is going to face in the future.

    But whether or not genomic information is available for free or not is not the point - the important point is that it would facilitate access without consent. When you download a document from the internet (via Google) you have the implied consent of the person who posted it to that public space that it is now for common use - this is enough because this is only data and not much more - it is not as personal as an individual's genomic information. By contrast when you access somebody's genomic data you need to have explicit consent because this is something very personal that has an important bearing on their identity, health, right-to-privacy, personhood etc. Access to an individual's genomic information -- in the wrong hands -- opens up possibilities of discrimination in the workplace, for example. If Google makes all personal genomic data available for anyone to use it is also making that available to profit-making enterprises -- and it's not clear how they could put in place an adequate consent mechanism to do this. This data is not Google's to redistribute (and it shouldn't even be Craig Venter's). It is also misleading to think that this data is going to be freely and equally available to everyone, because only certain specialized knowledge enterprises have the ability to make use of such data, and, by and large they are private, for-profit and they won't re-distribute a penny back to the people whose genomic information they are using. Genomic information is not like software code and it's wrong to compare them -- it belongs very personally to individuals. When you use or distribute that information without explicit consent, there is a victim. The 2005 Captain Hook Award to Google is intended to raise questions and concerns about a future threat to genetic privacy. We believe these issues need public attention and should be widely debated to forestall the most dangerous and socially harmful scenarios.

    The Coalition Against Biopiracy also received a few complaints about naming Craig Venter as a recipient of one of this year's Captain Hook Awards. We believe he's quite deserving. Go here for more background on Venter's 2004 global expedition to collect microbial biodiversity: [] []

    Venter is the flamboyant scientist who first grabbed headlines back in 1991. While employed at NIH, part of the US government's Human Genome Project, when he filed for US patents on thousands of gene sequences from the human brain.

    Venter's global expedition to collect microbial diversity challenges national sovereignty and raises more doubts about the already problematic acce

Would you people stop playing these stupid games?!?!?!!!!