Recent decades have witnessed an ever-increasing range and volume of digital data. All elements of the pillars of science--whether observation, experiment, or theory and modeling--are being transformed by the continuous cycle of generation, dissemination, and use of factual information. This is even more so in terms of the re-using and re-purposing of digital scientific data beyond the original intent of the data collectors, often with dramatic results.
We all know about the potential benefits and impacts of digital data, but we are also aware of the barriers, the challenges in maximizing the access, and use of such data. There is thus a need to think about how a data infrastructure can enhance capabilities for finding, using, and integrating information to accelerate discovery and innovation. How can we best implement an accessible, interoperable digital environment so that the data can be repeatedly used by a wide variety of users in different settings and with different applications?
With this objective: to use the microbial communities and microbial data, literature, and the research materials themselves as a test case, the Board on Research Data and Information held an International Symposium on Designing the Microbial Research Commons at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC on 8-9 October 2009. The symposium addressed 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. The overall goal of the symposium was to stimulate more research and implementation of improved legal and institutional models for publicly funded research in microbiology.