Frontlines | Hired Guns, Science-Style

When you cannot solve a problem, why not pay someone to do it for you? That's the idea behind the worldwide, online R&D collaboration, Innocentive ( Questioners post their biology, chemistry, or biochemistry 'challenges' on the Web site and interested scientists who figure out a solution earn a reward. Normally, the answer-seekers, who pay a fee, remain anonymous, but some are known. Ali Hussein, Innocentive's vice president of marketing, says that commercial giants such as Eli Lilly and Co., Procter & Gamble, and Syngenta have all posted problems. Answers to questions are posted, but the name of the questioner is kept confidential.

Often, the system connects questioners with scientists who already have the answers in hand. "A pharmaceutical company once asked us if they could post a problem they believed was unsolvable," says Hussein. "Three days later, an answer was submitted by a...

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