Sir John Sulston Interview on BBC Radio 4

December 8, 2011 in Media

Sir John Sulston (PLoS CC-BY 2.5)

The BBC have recently profiled the lives of various scientists in a Radio 4 series ‘Living the Scientific Life’. The latest episode featured John Sulston, a strong advocate and supporter of open data in science. You can listen to the full episode on the series website.

Sulston played a major role in the public Human Genome Project (HGP) consortium as Director of the Sanger Centre where much of the sequencing was performed. He discusses their race with the privately funded effort by Celera to release the full human genome sequence.

Aspects of openness are emphasised throughout the programme, open collaboration and data sharing being at the heart of the HGP consortium. Sulston describes the race as ‘serious…and it was about ownership.’ 21:49

Celera planned to make the genome data proprietary and although they later agreed to provide it following their publication of the genome in Science, this was a long time coming. The public consortium released all their data as they went along and allowed anyone (including Celera) to make use of it – which thousands of scientists did and continue to do. Access to data is paramount for Sulston, there were many other arguments happening behind the scenes but ‘None of this matters, there is only one thing that matters and that’s the issue of data release.’ 20:00

He strongly opposes the idea of anyone owning or patenting genetic sequence data ‘This is the basic information of biology and the idea of locking it up and renting it out piecemeal… is a business model that is flawed and it failed.’ On the situation of gene patents, which he states are misused, Sulston calls for scientists to oppose the current status quo:

‘This is a legal problem, it’s not really a science problem. We should not collectively be willing to subscribe to it. If we all of us refused to subscribe to this so called real world then it would be different.’ 26:00

If you agree, the working group are involved in several projects looking to build tools, apps and guidelines for open data and openness in science so do get in touch!

Image from PLoS article doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0020225.g002

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