#ContactForm1 { display: none ! important; }

Monday, January 9, 2012

Who Owns Your Genes?

Guess what? It's not you.

More than a quarter of human genes are patented, that means the belong to the patent owner.

The United States Congress has this to say from the Department of Commerce: United States Patent and Trademark Office (1-5-01)...

When Congress enacted the patent
statutes, it specifically authorized
issuing a patent to a person who
‘‘invents or discovers’’ a new and useful
composition of matter, among other
things. The pertinent statute is 35 U.S.C.
101, which reads: ‘‘Whoever invents or
discovers any new and useful process,
machine, manufacture, or composition
of matter, or any new and useful
improvement thereof, may obtain a
patent therefor, subject to the conditions
and requirements of this title.’’ Thus, an
inventor’s discovery of a gene can be the
basis for a patent on the genetic
composition isolated from its natural
state and processed through purifying
steps that separate the gene from other
molecules naturally associated with it.
Don't worry about getting a bill, if you're healthy. But if you want genetic testing for something like the BRAC1 gene that's linked to breast cancer? Yeah, that's going to cost you.

One company - Myriad Genetics - holds the patent on BRAC1 and BRAC2 genes. No other company can experiment with the genes or find a cheaper testing option. The lack of competition means the price of testing will stay high, well out of reach of the average American.

And, before you attack someone, this is currently being discussed in the Supreme Court with very valid arguments for why gene patenting is a Bad Idea.

What's worrisome at this point is that anyone actually thought this was a Good Idea at some point. Take the whole idea to its logical conclusion:
"We own your genes! By the way, you owe us... um... let's call it one million for sharing that genetic material of ours with your Significant Other last night. Oh, and you need to pay rent on gene ABCD3, or we're going to chemically extract it!"

That's a plan worthy of a Batman villain. And someone set up the law so it could happen.

I have a new proposal. All law makers and scientists should be required to read science fiction before doing anything. We'll call the class Worst Case Scenarios In Science, and then make them take a course in bioethics. Trust me, the fiction authors of the world have all thought out the extreme consequences of scary science. It makes for great books, but not for an ideal reality.

Now, knowing you don't really own your own genetic code, would you like to comment (there may or may not be a fee for using your brain).

The model of DNA appears courtesy of the Image Library of Biological Macromolecules based in Jena, Germany, and was found at the UCalBerkely website.


  1. Welcome to Lawyers in Science, the brand new horror show featuring a debate over whether you own all of yourself, or just parts!

    Isn't it great? (No... it's really not.)

    I'm hoping to see the Supreme Court shoot down the idea of gene patents in the near future.

  2. That is almost as bad as Bill Gates who scooped up free web content organized it, put it in a package and got rich of free stuff. It is insane, but I would not count on the Supreme Court to make any sound decision based on logic. They will twist it even worse than it is twisted now.

  3. This is interesting and kind of spooky too to find this out, Liana.

    In an unrelated topic, I just have to tell you-- the heroine in my holiday story, A Medieval Yule has your first name! Love your name.

  4. Kaye - Thank you! It's a pen name, and one of my favorites too. :o)