Economics and Competition in Genetics

Genetics is popularly considered to be the inescapable traits of a hereditary line. Philosophically, it could be argued to be the continuation of a person’s life beyond death. While “gene” has a lengthy, scientific, and esoteric definition, the Oxford English Dictionary defines genetics as, “of or relating to origin or development.” With respect to Star Trek, genetics is hyped up to be the last frontier. After all, Gene is the most valuable character in X-Men. Contrasted to science-fiction, scientific research has placed less emphasis on the issue. This is due to a lack of economic funding caused by competition between and within genetic research companies, as well as people’s reluctance to embrace its services and commercial growth.

The race between Celera Genomics and The Human Genome Project exemplifies the lucrative potential in mapping the human genome. Controversies such as genetic sequence patenting, databasing people’s genetics and medical record, ethical and religious debates, and personal decisions over knowing forthcoming medical issues are nominal when compared to the monopolization of genetic research and services because the discovery is already displaying irrevocable potential under a private business, not government investment. Although the film’s overtones suggests individual ambition, both parties denied any the existence of any competitive race between each other, justifying their urgency to map the human genome with medical benevolence for the greater good. While Craig Venter’s intentions may be benevolent, his recent creation of synthetic life in 2010 very well may be a direct result of his companies initial success in mapping the human genome. His resources and privatized information in the field gave him a head start in creating synthesized life, giving him yet another competitive advantage.

The Human Genome’s prediction of mapping the human genome in fifteen years was undercut by competition, showing that genetic research needs competition in order to develop effectively. Whether genetic services, when they become more available, are better off monopolized and privatized is still controversial. Genetic research needs a profit motive. The most productive competition, as seen in the Sequence Race, is for economic gain, not against disease, necessarily.

Genetic sequence patenting without defining that sequence’s function or developing a use for it is shown to slow medical research because scientists would not be accredited with finding the use in another person’s patented genetic sequence, so economics has found a way into genetic research. Problematically, Adam Smith’s invisible hand theory has found an exception in this case. Genetic sequence patenting is hampering its own development. This very well may be caused by the division of genetic research companies and even within its own businesses. Until genetic and protein research evolves from suspenseful theories about the definitive code of life to an evidently productive contribution to world, patents should only be awarded to useful products. There does not seem to be any difference in patenting a GCAT from patenting oxygen.

Apparently, twenty-thousand genetic sequences have been patented since 2001, yet very few diseases have been cured by genetic research. Offering patents solely to researchers that find a genetic sequence and its function, and possibly still offering limited patents to researchers that simply find genetic sequences, would cure the disease of patent corruption in genetic sequence research and provide economic incentive to researchers that find or create something useful. Cures to genetic diseases is hard, and economic investment must be augmented to make it more feasible and avoid the below.

Investors have little to gain from genetic research when people do not embrace the opportunity to know their risk of disease and future medical complications, leaving genetic businesses with nowhere to startup. It seems undeniably illogical for a person to refuse knowing whether they were going to get hit by a drunk driver before stepping into their car or if they were about to get punched in the arm. This decision differs from people’s reluctance to know their genetic risk of disease in that it is a short-term possibility of danger. They can make decisions and precautions to prevent getting punched in the arm, such as walking away from the stranger that might be issuing that particular survey, whereas people’s reluctance to knowing their susceptibility to genetic diseases is spurred by the feeling of helplessness that accompanies it. They may feel that they have lost their freedom in an existentialist world. However, prevention options are available to people that investigate their susceptibility, making it the responsible decision and eventual norm.


~ by adamwgill on January 13, 2012.

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