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commons. GenBank has no restrictions on the use of its data. Furthermore, GenBank has cooperative agreements for the exchange of genomic data with groups in Europe and Japan, and I would not be surprised if we see open DNA databanks established in China and Korea in the near future. The European Bioinformatics Institute has great open source information. The Genomic Standards Consortium is working on doing research community outreach and developing common vocabularies. The notion of a common vocabulary is often referred to as a genomic Rosetta Stone. Such semantic interoperability will facilitate meaningful access to the information. Many geneticists are good at coming up with catchy names, and they consider the human genome as analogous to a periodic table of our genes.

Finally, to return to where I started, infectious diseases continue to emerge, and while it is bad news for humankind, these diseases make continued microbiological research essential—and fundable. Every time there is a major new human health problem it is more likely for governments to spend money on the relevant research. During my adulthood I have seen a number of diseases such as herpes and AIDS go from obscurity to prominence. Other emerging diseases such as SARS also have the potential to cause enormous harm.

Trying to end on a positive note, let me reemphasize that it is good that microbiology has entered the popular consciousness. Awareness of the need for a microbial commons will help ensure public support for our efforts. Nevertheless, we have our work cut out for us.


Reference: Hardin, Garrett. 1968, The Tragedy of the Commons, Science, 162:1243-1248



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