21 Jun An open letter to Jeff Bezos
June 21, 2017
An open letter to Jeff Bezos:
Living microbe collections are a foundation of the modern economy. They have contributed to healthcare, biotechnology, and studies of biodiversity, as well as animal and plant agriculture. No comparable entity has done more to promote a level playing field for economic development and yet culture collections face an existential crisis. Perhaps this is because the impact of living collections is made by the clients who obtain materials from these collections rather than by the collection itself.
According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, living microbe collections, historically called culture collections, are essential to preserve microbial biodiversity. Culture collections have been identified as a necessary development component by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. With these mandates, collection groups are working to insure that they have capacity to manage the microbial resources essential for equitable sharing of the advances of biotechnology. Yet collections around the world are understaffed and spend a disproportionate amount of time working to secure funding.
Many of the world’s leading collections, such as the American Type Culture Collection, have had to charge large fees and prioritize revenue generating materials rather than acting as a comprehensive archive. To avoid these fees, strains are exchanged ad hoc or are isolated locally and this makes it difficult to compare or reproduce results which hinders scientific progress. Meanwhile, international initiatives such as the Global Seed Trust Svalbard Seed Vault are not incentivized to maintain microbial resources even though most plants require microbes to reach their maximum potential.
When faced with the challenge of how to use his vast fortune to benefit America, Andrew Carnegie established over 2,500 libraries at the cusp of the 20th century. Now as we face the dawn of the biotechnology era at the beginning of the 21st century, the time is right for a philanthropist to establish a network of open, public living microbe collections.
These collections will preserve and archive living microbes used in research and technology and insure that the materials are openly available to qualified recipients. They will advance the rise of biotechnology by insuring that high quality materials are used and that the exact same materials are used by different investigators. Much as the printing press allowed books to be copied exactly, living microbe collections can provide the exact same strain to multiple clients, and still have the original.
You asked for ideas that would change the world; living microbe collections are exactly the sort of investment that could change the world. Additionally, Living microbe collections are poised to benefit from more than just money. They are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the Amazon database, e-commerce, fulfilment, and cloud computing resources and with the appropriate investment are ready to be the rising tide that lifts all boats.
Mr. Bezos, secure your legacy by supporting an international network of living microbe collections that engage and benefit from the Amazon resources and infrastructure.
Curator, Fungal Genetics Stock Center
Department of Plant Pathology
Kansas State University
www.fgsc.net Fungal Genetics Stock Center
www.usccn.org US Culture Collection Network
World Federation for Culture Collections