Open-source seeds: While they spread shoots, they plant ideas


Open Source Seed Initiative

Does this seem fair? A plant breeder at a public university manages to grow a long-necked broccoli that, for easy cutting, stands tall above its leaves. Then a company that has used his creation to breed a slightly different broccoli submits it for a patent, claiming ownership over the very idea of long-necked broccoli.

So far, the company, Monsanto subsidiary Seminis, has failed to persuade the U.S. Patent Office to grant it a broad “utility patent.” But Seminis has appealed. If it succeeds, the original breeders, who shared their seeds freely, could be barred from working with their own seeds.

Surely there’s a better way.

This story launches Lisa Hamilton’s beautifully written piece in theVirginia Quarterly Review on open-source seeds: Linux for Lettuce.It’s the kind of longread that both deserves and demands the sort of focus that’s hard to achieve if you are connected to the internet.

Hamilton has done enough research to provide an authoritative tour, and she’s a graceful enough writer to capture not only what people say but how they say it. Broccoli-breeding Oregon State University geneticist Jim Myers, for example:

… has dark hair and dark eyes that are often set behind tinted glasses. In public, he rarely registers enough emotion to move the thick mustache framing his mouth. Still, as he talked about the broccoli his voice buckled, and behind those shadowy lenses his eyes looked hard and tense.

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