Plagiarism: what would you do?

James Joyce, 1 photographic print, b&w, cartes...

James Joyce: Image via Wikipedia

I noticed an odd posting on a blog I frequently read, which was reposting a story originally on the site.  Craig Venter is a very clever scientist who was the leader of the team to initially sequence the human genome.  A decade before that, Venter was the leader of the team that first obtained the complete DNA sequence of a bacterium.  One of the authors on that manuscript was actually my college roommate, who worked with a Nobel Laureate after finishing graduate school. Brian tells me that Nobel Laureates put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.

Craig Venter was in the news about a year ago, reporting the construction an artificial bacterium, which he called Mycoplasma mycoides.  In order to differentiate the DNA of their artificial microorganism from other organisms, they encoded molecular tags into its genome. One tag contained a quote from the physicist Richard Feynman “What I cannot build, I cannot understand,” which actually turns out to be a mis-quotation of the physicist. Another tag contained a quote from the Irish author James Joyce, “To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life.”1 At this point the story takes a turn to the weird, as Venter received a cease and desist letter from the estate of Joyce, who claimed that Venter used the quote without permission.

I’m not sure what else to say about this, other than I hope that the Joyce estate doesn’t come after YCP-Micro now for copyright infringement. Just make sure you all are properly attributing your sources in your lab reports!

1 see Wikiquote for this quotation, or buy the book here.

BONUS: My spouse and I were discussing this article today, and she asked the question, “DNA only has 4 letters; how did they spell anything using that?”  We both know the answer, but what do you think?


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on March 25, 2011, in Bonus!, Meta, Strange but True. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I think this case is one of over-zealousness from the Joyce estate! The fact that Joyce’s novel, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, is available on line both at Project Gutenberg and Google Books clearly suggests the work is in the public domain. Nevertheless, your admonition about source citation, even for work in the public domain, is important for several reasons.

    First, citing your sources is the right thing to do!
    Second, not properly citing sources potentially can get you into legal trouble.
    Third, think beyond being a student; think about working as a professional. As such, you are a member of a community. You will, hopefully, contribute to the pool of ideas that help the community operate. As a nurse, you may come up with a practice that improves patient care. As a research scientist, you may come up with an idea that helps move a research project forward (e.g. Craig Venter’s gene sequencing work). You put your ideas out for the community to use; if they help the community, your career advances. At the same time you also constantly use the community’s ideas to advance your own work. I believe that the communal nature that most of us work in obligates us to acknowledge the work of those who go before us.

    Anyway, that’s my $0.10 (adj. for inflation) worth.

  2. Well, I am claiming “fair use” for my instance above, although the faculty at York College have recently been informed by the College President that we will be on our own with regard to legal representation for Instructional Resources copyright infringement!

  3. What’s binary times two? Quaternary?

    • Pedantic mode on- DNA does use quaternary encoding, but it is 4exp, not 2exp*2. -/pedantic mode off

      However, we can rearrange to get your answer.

      Also; where should I mail your extra credit bonus point?

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