IEET > GlobalDemocracySecurity > Fellows > Jamais Cascio > HealthLongevity
The Synaptic Leap
Jamais Cascio   Dec 16, 2005   Worldchanging  

synapticleap.jpgLet’s say you’re an eager young bioscientist, ready to use open source models for your biomedical research and development. How do you do it? Well, you could put some of your work up on Bioforge, or try to hook up with a group like BIOS... but where are the enabling systems to make open source, collaborative development straightforward for researchers who don’t want to be computer techs in their off-hours?

The Synaptic Leap wants to be that enabling system.

The Synaptic Leap is a start-up nonprofit led by Ginger Taylor of PeopleSoft (most of the group’s employees, in fact, come from PeopleSoft). The Synaptic Leap describes itself as “dedicated towards providing a network of online communities that connect and empower scientific and medical researchers to conduct open-source style research.” What that means in practice is the provision of online tools to allow researchers to coordinating efforts and exchange knowledge.

Their first project is a big one: Malaria, in coordination with the Tropical Disease Initiative (TDI). (We wrote about the TDI back in January of 2005.) Sometimes considered an “orphan disease” because of the lack of major pharmaceutical projects, much of the current effort to fight malaria focuses on blocking or eliminating the carrier, mosquitos. The TDI intends to find medical treatments to prevent and cure malarial infection; there is still much work to do, and much of what Synaptic Leap intends to accomplish is the efficient organization of the work among the international collaborators:

The Malaria genome is largely unexplored (~65% of ORF are annotated as hypothetical proteins). We intend to provide the Malaria community with tools to use, analyze and annotate the known data about all proteins in the Malaria genome. We believe that “collective knowledge” can contribute to a large efforts which could not be accomplished by the individuals alone. The use of open source methods and the tools to initiate research collaborations within the Malaria community of TDI, will help towards identifying the most promising targets and compounds for drug discovery against Malaria.

The Synaptic Leap is very much a Tech Bloom-era organization. It uses Drupal and WordPress as content management systems, and project members can participate in online discussions, author blogs, even provide RSS feeds for a site aggregator. In short, The Synaptic Leap is the open source biology version of the “networked politics” movement, or the biomedical corps of the “second superpower.” Can smart bio-mobs be far behind?

The Synaptic Leap is still in its earliest days—the site only went live in the last week or so, and there is still much work ahead for the project. No matter. This is an extremely exciting development, the step that could give open source biomedical research a model for a persistent structure and a toolkit for collaboration beyond a single focus. It is, from what I’ve found, the first viable example of an open source bioscience effort modeled not on the computer industry, but on the open political network movement. It’s an early indicator that open source bio may now be ready to move from the fringes to become an important voice in the future of medical science.


Jamais Cascio is a Senior Fellow of the IEET, and a professional futurist. He writes the popular blog Open the Future.

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