Stealing Money in Genomes

I set my expectations on what I would learn when watching the PBS special “Cracking the Code of Life” at learning little more than science. I turned out to be very wrong. I was smacked with quite the economics lesson instead. The Human genome project is a cash cow!

The program initially led me down the path I thought it would. It was filled with gene science, experimental techniques, and reasons why the Human Genome Project was the best scientific undertaking in pretty much all of history. What the project boiled down to in a broad sense was a compilation of C’s, G’s, A’s, and T’s in a very delicate and specific order. Finding this pattern of letters was technically finding the essence of humans. Incredible! Right? Well it is less incredible when one takes a step back to realize that despite billions of letters being  placed in order, little practical good has come out of the situation.

With a project of this size, something good must come out and that of course is loads of money for the firms writing down letters. The lack of producing therapies doesn’t seem to hurt those researching the human genome all that much. In fact, all the researchers need to secure monopolies on anything gene related is the sequence itself. By simply identifying genes, scientists doing work which is made very simple due to computers can apply for patents to secure all work and profit related to a small, specific segment  of the DNA sequence. This is easier than stealing. In fact maybe it is stealing. Patenting genes before knowing their true significance makes a risky scenario for any scientist seeking to do further work. The patents also steal research and possibly eventual profit from those who will convert on the genome project in the future and do some true good.

Trust me, the idea of the Human Genome Project as being an unfair business was not what I thought what I would leave watching the program with, but it  has nagged me since. I say nag not because I take ethical stances against earning a quick buck (Come on I’m a college student and a capitalist). Rather, I just find it hard to believe how impractically profitable the Human Genome Project is  or will be despite producing little to nothing of practical use. Maybe I am just jealous of the researcher’s success in converting their findings to potential profits, but it made me look at the research and profit of another human product that seems to be done in a much fairer way: human blood plasma.

Plasma, the liquid component of blood, has been converted into many different therapies by drug companies which have gone one to better and save lives. Now of course the therapies are making drug companies a whole lot of money because they are able to patent and sell their products. This is the model that genome researchers wish to follow but are messing up by forgetting a key factor; no one patented plasma overall. By leaving the means for producing products free, the plasma industry is booming while the genetic therapy industry is stagnant.

The pioneers in genetic mapping deserve their due credit without a doubt. They do not deserve to bring home the bacon because of decoding sequence though. Leave that money out their for the true innovator who uses your “great” project to find the cure for cancer or cystic fibrosis.  But hey, who am I to say; maybe I am really just sore that I didn’t think of it first.

– Aldymane

~ by aldymane on January 13, 2012.

One Response to “Stealing Money in Genomes”

  1. I really enjoyed this. Your parting idea is fascinating and an excellent comparison betweem something that needs improvement and something that works.

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