“New and Useful” Human Genes = $$$$

As I watched section 7 of “Cracking the Code of Life” entitled Who Owns the Genome?, I was surprised to find out that human genes can be patented. The section begins by showing champagne pouring at a party to celebrate the identification of 1/3 of the human genome. It transitions from a happy party atmosphere to an issue of genetic patenting quickly.

Whoever discovers a gene first, or whoever wishes to patent a gene first, may do so if they can prove the gene is “new and useful.”

This vague guideline seems laughable when dealing with such a highly profitable subject and important part of human life.  Who is to prove that a gene is “useful” and how do they prove that? As a specialist from the film stated, a gene is useful because it is “a probe to detect itself.” So basically, if you discover a gene and get it passed through the two year patenting process, you can make millions of dollars from it if other people/companies need to use the genetic code for something like disease research.

This monopoly of genes for the purpose of profit could cause delays in disease and other medical research, because companies don’t like to deal with things that are uncertain, like whether a gene is patented or not.

This leads me to consider whether the U.S. Patent Office should permit the patenting of genes or not. What if this entrepreneurship of sorts is leading to a delay in the cures for cancer and other deadly illnesses? To me, the money isn’t worth the risk, but I am aware that many people see this situation differently. It seems that human genes should be public property and able to be used by anyone that needs them for any purposes to better mankind. I fear that since approximately 10 years have passed since the discovery of the entire human genome and since some 20,000 genes have been patented, this process of gene patenting will continue, whether or not it affects medical research and advances.

Lynne M.

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~ by peacelovecake on January 29, 2010.

One Response to ““New and Useful” Human Genes = $$$$”

  1. You raise a very important issue. The use of patents has undoubtably caused delays in disease and medical research. It also disrupts the collaborative efforts in medical research leading to an air of distrust. A great example of a patent of a gene is Myriad Genetics and the BRCA genes (for testing breast cancer).

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