Randy Rettberg pointed out an op-ed piece in yesterday’s NY Times on How the Internet Got Its Rules. The piece talks about how the RFC process was critical to paving the way for the Internet. RFC is an acronymn for “Request for Comments”. Basically an RFC is memo that documents an idea or way of doing something. By writing an RFC, you are deliberately trying to solicit feedback and get others to discuss and improve upon your work.
In synthetic biology, we’re trying to adopt a similar model. The BioBricks Foundation (BBF) has launched an RFC process for synthetic biology. There are a lot of great ideas floating around–from new protocols for assembling DNA to graphical depictions for BioBrick parts. By writing down those thoughts and letting people comment and discuss them, hopefully the best and most useful ideas will float to the top over time. BBF RFCs offer a faster way of getting new ideas and protocols out into circulation. Every BBF RFC gets a number and a DOI courtesy of MIT DSpace so that the RFC is referenceable in peer-reviewed publications.
In the NY Times piece, Stephen Crocker writes, “We always tried to design each new protocol to be both useful in its own right and a building block available to others. We did not think of protocols as finished products, and we deliberately exposed the internal architecture to make it easy for others to gain a foothold.”
We need to be thinking the same way in synthetic biology. How do we take the initial steps needed so that others can follow and build upon our work? How do we design our parts and devices to maximize their reuse by others?
[Disclaimer: I’ve been helping out with the set up of the BBF RFC process and was one of the authors of BBF RFC 0 .]