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Biology Taking A Lesson From I.T. (for a change)
Jamais Cascio, 25 Feb 05

Biomimicry and biomorphic software remain favorite topics around these parts, which is why a headline at New Scientist caught our eye: "Compression algorithms harnessed to fight HIV." Biologists at the University of Washington and at the Royal Perth Hospital are taking a look at computer code as a model for vaccine development.

Machine learning algorithms commonly used to compress digital images and recognise patterns in email spam might also be able to help scientists find an effective vaccine for HIV. [...]

HIV mutates rapidly, thus evading the human immune system. This means that vaccines developed to counteract one strain may not be effective against another variant.

But the researchers hope that algorithms capable of finding patterns in digital information could also help identify key genetic features across many different strains of HIV. This could enable them to engineer an HIV vaccine that is effective against several strains at once.

The article notes that the specific algorithms used were developed by Microsoft. If that's the case, the code was almost certainly patented by Microsoft. I'd be interested to find out (if any of you are in a position to know who to ask) what kind of licensing agreement went into giving the researchers access to the algorithms.

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