The world’s largest plant library
The most admirable initiatives often come from the least expected places. Hampton Creek, the San Francisco based food company that makes eggless egg products (i.e. Just Mayo) is on a mission to build the world’s largest plant database.
Their purpose is to create a plant catalogue that describes their characteristics and applicable properties. Barely a month ago, the company hired Dan Zigmond, who used to be Google Maps scientific data leader, to lead the efforts for gathering information. At that moment, the library’s mission became serious.
It’s funny how the Information Era has certain ties to the Dark Ages. One of the most characteristic aspects of the Middle Ages is that they used to believe that a single treatise or compilation could encompass an entire aspect of the world. The Tractatus de Herbis, for example, pursued to cover the natural catalogue of medicinal plants, and John of Ardene’s Medicine Treatises sought to cover all the medical theory known at the time. It seems that with the arrival of the 21st century and the Internet, that zealous trait is making a comeback.
Databases seek to compile the infinite information we have discovered, and to continue feeding off it in real time. Unlike what medieval scribes did––try to organize the world with practical purposes, now there those who follow the less decorous desire to use information for commercial benefits.
Hampton Creek’s mission is persuasive and, naturally, hyperbolic. The compilation would help human health, ecologic sustainability and animal wellbeing. So far they have gathered more than four thousand samples of different plant materials, which they are just beginning to organize and understand.
But there over 400 thousand known plant species in the world (with emphasis in “known”), and only about a dozen plant genomes, which leaves Hampton Creek with a great deal of work to do.
The company has not shared any of their information yet, but according to Zigmond, in the future they seek to license this information as part of their long-term business plan. Their contributions promise to become incredibly valuable if and when, once the information has been gathered, they make it public as part of that inestimable legacy that has marked our evolution since treatises and compilations where being created. If this does not happen, we would only be facing another ambitious strategy to monetize information.
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