California: Hotbed of Innovation

Introduction

 

Biotechnology as a major field within science has led to many new companies copying the Genentech blueprint: having a small company creating commercially viable products to earn profits. This movement from a purely academic scope of research to a company thriving in an industrial market has become a popular choice for those interested in the sciences, offering more career opportunities. From the 1970s on, a number of companies would emerge to follow the example set by Genentech. This would result in a major growth of the field, located in California.

California has become the true center of biotechnology in the U.S, as the birth place of the industry as well as having numerous companies making products in a multitude of fields. Because of this environment, being surrounded by other biotech companies, a sense of innovation is greatly encouraged, as competition will enable a surge of creativity. This anthology details several examples of how California has become the epicenter of biotech, ranging from peculiar facts about the history of Californian biotech to present companies developing new products within the biotech field. The hotbed of innovation exhibited by the California environment is shown through the amount of diverse companies and novel products.

Continue reading “California: Hotbed of Innovation”

California: Hotbed of Innovation

Biotech and Business: The emergence of private sector Biology

           Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech by Sally Smith Hughes is an engaging look at the birth of a new type of industry, the field of biotechnology. Research with the natural sciences has always been an academic pursuit, to figure out how the world and everything in it functions. However, in the 1970s, as biology and chemistry continued to develop alongside technology, business was bound to get involved. Hughes, as a scientific historian from the hotbed of technology and biotech in California, details the entire life of the first Biotech company, Genentech. Her genealogy of the story on this small, yet influential company begins with the technique of producing recombinant DNA and the capacity to produce a large amount of clones of the desired DNA. From this scientific breakthrough, a few key players would emerge, and eventually start Genentech, with a goal of using recombinant DNA to make industrial products. Continue reading “Biotech and Business: The emergence of private sector Biology”

Biotech and Business: The emergence of private sector Biology

Similarity between Genentech and Google

Chapter 5 describes “an emerging culture” in the Genentech company. Genentech was developing a culture that was unmatched by any other technology company at the time. Hughes wrote that Silicon Valley firms were equally motivated by innovation, research, and protecting intellectual property. However, these companies lacked strong ties with the academic world that biotechnology is built upon. The culture of Genentech’s company combined the financially driven aspect of product development that tech companies thrive on, with the academic collaboration that universities promote.

“Genentech’s culture was in short a hybrid of academic values brought in line with commercial objectives and practices. It was, to turn a phrase, “a recombinant culture” in way that the biotechnology industry of today continues to manifest in one way or another” -Hughes, 132

The culture was not lost on its visitors. As Hughes states, visitors to the company immediately noticed the energy and electricity of the company’s scientists. The company was noticeably informal and was lacking in respect to authority or hierarchy.

“Genentech’s culture of extremes included a strand that observers today would label socially unacceptable. But it was not Genentech’s blemishes that financiers noticed. They saw a company with an impressive line of scientific accomplishments and major corporate alliances.” – Hughes, 135

The environment of Genentech reminded me about Google’s environment from reading Johnson’ Where Good Ideas Come From. Google is notorious for having a laid back, informal work environment, where employees are encouraged to collaborate. Both Genentech and Google provide their employees with work environments that may not fit the norm, but allow their employees to be as innovative as possible. Both companies are able to produce highly marketable, successful products, while still providing their employees with the interactive environment they so desire.

Similarity between Genentech and Google

The Omnipresence of DNA

DNA has been used to tie criminals to their crimes for years now, but how exactly does that process happen? What is DNA? How can it be matched to a suspect? How much DNA is necessary to be a useable sample? Is DNA enough to convict someone in a courtroom? Samantha Weinberg answers these questions and many more in her nonfiction book Pointing From the Grave: A True Story of Murder and DNA. This novel tells the true story about Dr. Helena Greenwood, a thriving marketing director at a biotechnology company. Greenwood worked at the forefront of the biotechnology world, and had her sights set on getting involved in DNA fingerprinting. In 1984, Dr. Greenwood was sexually assaulted at her home in San Francisco. She was set to be the key witness during the trial, but in 1985, she was murdered outside her home in San Diego. With a suspect, but no evidence, the case went cold for 15 years before the technology that Greenwood had been so hopeful about was the exact technology that set her case to rest. Continue reading “The Omnipresence of DNA”

The Omnipresence of DNA

Biomedical Patent Controversy

Over the course of this semester, we have been discussing patents, the difficulties with patent laws, and ethical controversies over patents. I noticed this recurring theme in Chapter 1, when Reimers suggested the Cohen and Boyer patent their invention of recombinant DNA.

“Patenting in academic biomedicine was controversial on ethical grounds. . .a common belief dating to the early years of the century was that discoveries in biomedicine, especially those related to human health, should be publicly available and not restricted by patents.” ( Hughes, 21).

The Hastings Center, a “nonpartisan research institution dedicated to bioethics and the public interest” published an article written by Josephine Johnston, titled “Intellectual Property and Biomedicine.”   In this article, Johnston dives into the history and concern around biomedical patents. In this article, she touches on some of the most important ethical questions around biomedical patents:

“Is it acceptable to assert ownership over material derived from the human body? Do all these patents meet the legal criteria for patenting? What are the consequences for research—could patents slow the pace of innovation by restricting access to biological materials and processes? What are the consequences for lifesaving tests and treatments—could patents limit access to them?” (Johnston)

Johnston touches on most of the important areas surrounding biomedical patents. She explains the history, advantages and disadvantage of patenting, and some of the current legal policies surrounding biomedical patents. Its easy to throw a patent on a novel, physical invention and claim ownership. The lines become blurred when the novel item in question is not physically tangible, but still beneficial and profitable. The controversy over whether or not intellectual material can or should be patented is deeper than many may suspect. This short article is a great resource for learning about some of the implications about intellectual patents and how it relates to the biomedical and biotechnology fields specifically.

 

Biomedical Patent Controversy

Is Frediani Really A Sociopath?

In Chapter 21, I found the statement from the Psychologist about Frediani’s personality to be intriguing:

“Frediani has the personality of a sociopath: charismatic, impulsive, hedonistic, smart, manipulative, faithless in sexual relationships, and ultimately remorseless” (Weinberg, 339).

This was not the first time the possibility that Frediani had a sociopathic personality has been brought up in the novel. However, following the end of the trial I was inclined to believe that Frediani was indeed sociopathic. I looked up information about connections between sociopathic personalities and violent or murderous behavior. I found an article titled, “The Sociopath-Serial Killer Connection.”  This article stated that many of the qualities that are common in serial killers are also common characteristics of sociopaths. Frediani was not a serial killer, but I was interested in seeing how many of these qualities were similar between Frediani and serial killers. The article listed some of the same qualities of a sociopath as the psychologist Weinberg quoted: “a disregard for laws and social mores, a disregard for the rights of others, a failure to feel remorse or guilt, and a tendency to display violent behavior.” These are all qualities that Frediani displayed over and over again. The article also stated that sociopaths are “easily agitated” and “prone to emotional fits of rage.” This is consistent with Frediani’s behavior around his girlfriends. He showed a pattern of getting easily agitated and ended up physically enraged with them.

However, there were also a few statements made in this article about sociopathic behaviors and killers that do not resemble Frediani’s behavior throughout the novel. The article states that sociopaths “often live on the fringes of society . . . are unable to hold down a steady job, and are unable to stay in one place for very long.” This is not descriptive of Frediani’s typical behavior. He lived in a highly populated city. He was usually able to hold down a job and even managed to get promotions. He lived in San Francisco for years, moving only when his circumstances changed. The article stated that sociopaths often appear to be disturbed. However, whenever any of his close friends or coworkers were asked about Frediani’s behavior prior to his crimes, no one saw anything unusual in his behavior. In fact,  they often wondered, “was there something that I missed?” And finally, the article states that sociopathy is often thought to be the result of a person’s environment, such as childhood trauma or abuse, rather than an “in-born characteristic.” Frediani, however, was raised with a relatively normal childhood. He found his parents to be quite strict, but we weren’t informed of any life-changing trauma or abuse in his past. The reader is left unaware of any event(s) in Frediani’s past that would likely be the underlying cause of this antisocial personality disorder.

I am left wondering, was Frediani a sociopath and therefore his actions are less surprising, or does he simply display some sociopathic tendencies and in truth he is just a murderer?

 

Is Frediani Really A Sociopath?

Shying Away from Capital Punishment

In Chapter 15, the idea that Frediani’s case may be a death penalty case arose. Death penalty cases are controversial, and in 2000 when this case was being tried, the law in California surrounding cases of capital punishment was different than it is today. But they sentence from this chapter that caught my attention was

“Bartick was confident that he had a better than evens chance of persuading the jury of Paul’s redeeming characteristics–in the event that he was found guilty of murder” (Weinberg, 236).

I didn’t realize death sentences were given a separate trial from the original murder trials. This explains why character references may play such a strong part in the sentences. California has not sentenced a prisoner to execution since 2006 so the laws have changed since this trial. However, in 2003 the New York Times wrote an article about jurors sparing the lives of prisoners in exchange for life without parole. The article claims one of the main contributors to this change was an increase in defense attorneys convincing jurors the lives of their clients are worth saving. This is definitely what Bartick was planning to do with Frediani if he was found guilty of murder.

http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/sentencing-news-and-developments-2003-2001

Shying Away from Capital Punishment

Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From

Theoretical and Evolutional Networking Connections

Our physical, emotional and mentally evolving universe has many known limitations in fields of chemistry, biology, biotechnology and innovative sciences overall. These limitations are nothing but mental barriers that are bound to be overcame using the basis of innovation that our great ancestors founded many years ago. Where Good Ideas Come From written by Steven Johnson makes clear and somewhat short the long and tedious step-by-step process in which innovation progressed. In this science related nonfiction piece, Steve Johnson, a formidable writer and historian, talks about the different variations of ways in which ideas come to be, how they are/were implemented, the best ways these ideas can come to surface and how they contribute to the overall spectrum of innovative thinking. This writing contains a wealth of information relative to what everything is today and how it came to be, thus making it relevant and interesting to audiences of all sorts. Continue reading “Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From”

Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From

Blood Typing

After reading this chapter, I went online to read about blood types and found information about how much more complicated blood types are than the 4 simple A, B, AB, and O blood types. Blood actually contains hundreds of antigens that can all create some form of reaction if the wrong type is given during a blood transfusion. One of the rarest blood types in the world has only nine active blood donors of this specific type in the world. Blood typing has come a long way since blood groups were originally discovered.

Blood Typing

Irrelevant or Still Relevant?

Johnson asks why many good ideas flourished in the fourth quadrant, despite the lack of economic incentive. Innovations driven by economic gain usually include an expiration date. They are designed to solve a problem or make life easier in some way, but they do not always last the test of time. The typewriter was a novel innovation until computers and keyboards took over. Typewriters now lack any real monetary value, while the discovery of cell division is still relevant.

Irrelevant or Still Relevant?

Success is Not the Absence of Failure

“The history of being spectacularly right has a shadow history lurking behind it: a much longer history of being spectacularly wrong, again and again” (Johnson, 134).

Innovative ideas, most of the time, come from a long process of trial and error. From a young age we are taught to strive for success and are often reprimanded for failures. However, success should not be synonymous with the absence of failure. Plenty of very successful people had to face multiple failures before they hit success. Even Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper company for lacking imagination and good ideas.

Success is Not the Absence of Failure

Curiosity and Serendipity

Johnson talks about the potential danger of losing serendipity in the wake of the Web. I believe that the Web can make serendipitous connections in ways that were never possible before the Web was created, but that a general sense of curiously to learn and find new things is necessary for serendipity, no matter where it comes from.

In this Ted Talk, Laura Green talks about how important it is for people in all different disciplines to talk to each other and “tell a better story” so that ideas can spread. She emphasizes how important it is in science for people outside the field to ask questions and encourage the search for new answers.

http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Connecting-Curiosity-%E2%80%93-Tales-o

Curiosity and Serendipity

Slow Hunch app

I did a quick Google search of “slow hunch” and found that someone actually created a web app called SlowHunch inspired by the chapter Slow Hunch in Johnson’s book.

http://slowhunch.com/

“The goal is simple: Provide an open environment where ideas can connect and grow…Users can now log in, create hunches, add tags and post comments. This allows us to develop the site further. In other words, the site will unfold from itself.”

Basically, anyone can create an account on this website and write a ‘hunch’ that will be added to the growing pool of other hunches, and people can add to or comment on other’s hunches. The idea is that the site will just keep growing as more people’s ideas are connected together.

Slow Hunch app