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A View from the Dark Side

PLoS Computational Biology
Public Library of Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030105
  • Perspectives
  • Computer Science


untitled Perspective A View from the Dark Side David B. Searls I n 1995, when I left a faculty position at the University ofPennsylvania to join the fledgling bioinformatics unit atwhat was then SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals, the friendly jibes by academic colleagues about ‘‘going over to the Dark Side’’ were, I suspect, only half in jest. There weren’t all that many of us practicing bioinformatics at that time, and there was genuine concern that a brain drain to industry might curtail the training of a new generation. Dire talk of ‘‘eating our seed corn’’ made its way into print [1–3]. Other misgivings grew out of the first wave of human genome-wide data then arriving in profusion: the short single-pass cDNA sequences called expressed sequence tags (ESTs) that bubbled up new gene identifications seemingly on a daily basis and that appeared to be suddenly short- circuiting the stately, hierarchical progression of the genome effort through ever-finer stages of mapping while breakthroughs in sequencing technology were labored after [4–6]. The data-management challenges arising from this heady sampling of the genome were making a strong impression, in both the public and private sectors, and the as- yet-unresolved (and highly charged) question of the patentability of genes led to a land rush on intellectual property [7–9]. At the same time a surge of startups with liberal venture-capital grubstakes only increased the demand for skilled gene prospectors [10,11]. All these developments fed concerns that a reckless commercialization of the human genome would be somehow unfairly turbocharged by lavish spending and pure computational horsepower in industry, with legions of apostate academics mining the data. Ten Years before the Bench I had my own concerns in moving to industry, especially as this was my second such excursion. Once before I had departed academia, but for another Dark Side: the computer industry and a job in a central R&D (research and development) function devoted to art

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