BOSC Day 1: Open Source in Biology

by Lorrie LeJeune

You know you're in Scandinavia when the carpeting in your hotel room is electric blue and your towels a complementary hot orange. No hotel in the US would have the nerve to use color the way the Danish do. Everything in Copenhagen works well, from the airport (blissfully uncrowded), to the trains (on time), to the people (who can switch from speaking Danish to perfect English and back again without losing a word).

The same sense of organization has also affected the Bioinformatics Open Source Conference. Everything was up and running on schedule when I dragged my jet-lagged self into the main meeting room yesterday. I sat in on two talks from the biopathways section of the conference and was blown away: both by how well they went and by the subject matter. I've been away from molecular biology for too long. I'd never realized that networking principles could be applied to the analysis of genomes, or that a program (called Genies) exists that uses principles of information science and fractal analysis to extract data from scientific literature. From the Genies talk I also learned that cauliflower is a perfect example of a fractal. No matter how small a piece you break off a head of cauliflower, it will always look exactly like a complete head. What a great way to explore science and play with your food at the same time! I'll definitely check this out the next time I stir-fry.

After dinner I sat in on a BOF (Birds of a Feather) session on open source authoring rights in the biological sciences. More and more researchers at universities and in industry are developing open source tools, or contributing to open source development, however, many of these efforts are being slowed down or hampered by intellectual property rules at host institutions. As it stands now, many researchers have no choice but to hand over not only the technologies they develop while students or employees of a university or corporation, but control over all future development of the tool or technology.

The scientists and developers attending this BOF are looking into new forms of open source licensing, and new ways of working with the IP officers at their institutions. Their goal is to have more freedom to develop their ideas and software tools, and do collaborative development with colleagues from other institutions, but still keep the technology licensing arms of their host institutions happy -- all without having to sign over all their rights to ideas they develop.