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Board on Research Data and Information
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Board on Research Data and Information
Policy and Global Affairs Division
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
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Washington, DC 20001

Designing the Microbial Research Commons: An International Symposium
National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, 8-9 October 2009

Board on Research Data and Information
Policy and Global Affairs Division
National Academy of Sciences, U.S.

[ Summary] [ Task Statement ] [ Meeting Agenda ] [ Steering Committee Members ]


The opportunities to accelerate scientific discovery and resulting applications are made increasingly possible by technological breakthroughs and pioneering methods to process and integrate vast amounts of data, information, and raw materials. Microbial research, which is outgrowing its “small science” institutional structures, needs to build upon these opportunities in an attempt to develop a global microbial research commons to promote access to databases, literature, and materials through an open, digitally distributed network. However, the increasingly blurred line between basic and applied research confers potential economic value even upon research inputs that are far upstream. As a result, the research community must increasingly come to terms with commoditizing pressures within developed economies. These pressures restrict the conduct of public-sector research through strong intellectual property rights and related contractual restrictions on access to and use of materials, publications, and data. At the same time, restrictive policies in developing countries under the Convention on Biodiversity complicate research uses of microbial materials held in public repositories ex situ, and make it increasingly difficult to access the vast in situ materials these countries control.

These trends have led to a proliferation of diverse licensing strategies and techniques, which collectively have elevated the transaction costs and other barriers for even relatively simple cooperative research projects. There is, thus, a need to focus on the obstacles to upstream, non-commercial research and the solutions to them. An essential, early step is development of a set of design principles that address the economic, legal, and institutional dimensions of the transformation of the existing research infrastructure into what could become a globally distributed and digitally integrated research commons. The goal of this redesigned “soft” infrastructure would be to better manage publicly funded research resources, without compromising downstream commercial applications and fruitful partnerships between the public and private sectors, or between developed and developing countries.

The Board on Research Data and Information therefore is preparing an International Symposium on Designing the Microbial Research Commons, to be held at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC on 8-9 October 2009. This Symposium will expand on prior international discussions on the same topic at a conference in June 2008 in Ghent, Belgium (see: The October 2009 International Symposium will address topics such as models to lower the transaction costs and support access to and use of microbiological materials and digital resources from the perspective of publicly funded research, public-private interactions, and developing country concerns. It also will have a sub-theme session focusing on research and applications in energy and environment, with the overall goal of stimulating more research and implementation of improved legal and institutional models for publicly funded research in microbiology.

The Board gratefully acknowledges the support for this project of the Department of Energy under grant number DE-SC0002579, as well as the core support it receives from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Technical Information Center, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Library of Congress.


 We are grateful to the Department of Energy, DOE grant DE-SC0002579, and the
National Science Foundation, NSF grant OCI-082173, for support of this project.