Bbf:Frequently Asked Questions

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This is a crappy FAQ, what's the deal?

Just wanted to get the ball rolling here, please add and edit excessively.

You said that “today the ability to make use of basic biological functions is stovepiped. Why would you use a word like “stovepiped”? Can you give some examples?

We have no excuse for stovepiped. Essentially what this phrase is referring to is different biological technologies are tied up through patents in different companies. One example is gene transfer in plants which is held under strong patent by Agrobiotechs and another is zinc fingers by Sangamo BioSciences, Inc. Having different technologies cornered by different companies renders the design and fabrication of integrated biological systems which use these technologies very difficult. We hope to address this problem.

What sort of licenses do you offer – will it be “viral”?

One of the current activities being undertaken by the BBF is the development of legal technologies that are appropriate for the particular legal landscape of biological functions. So we don’t know yet, but we probably won’t call it viral. We will be coordinating with Science Commons to develop this technology.

This sounds like open source software, are you guys affiliated with GNU? Why don’t you have a recursive acronym?

We aren’t formally affiliated, but Hal Abelson and Gerry Sussman (two of our contributors) have been closely involved with the FSF. Our acronym isn’t recursive because we’re biological engineers, you hax0r.

There’s no Microsoft of biological engineering, who are you guys fighting?

We’re not fighting anybody; we hope to see biological engineering develop differently than the software industry. Early establishment of a biological commons (to be shared by industry as well as individuals) might help to prevent the “us vs. them” attitude that occurred in software.

What incentive would a company have to use a component from the BBF?

Having a shared pool of basic functions would help innovation and growth in the biotech industry as a whole. Similar to how the basic functions in software are shared as an open commons. There would be much less innovation if someone had a patent on “AND” or “OR”, for instance.

Doesn’t having an open commons of biological function make things more dangerous rather than less?

We believe that establishing a productive, responsible community of biological engineers will far outweigh providing greater access to technology for those who would misuse it. This community will also be more equipped to respond to accidental or intentional risks.

Where can I read more about the idea of a commons and distributed innovation?

Here’s the reading list suggested by Science Commons.

How can I help?

Are you a student or professor? Start a standard parts registry node at your school. Graphic artist? Design us a cool logo! We’re always looking for interested volunteers, contact endy@mit.edu for more information.

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