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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Patents on human genes may be ruled against the law

National Public Radio (and others) recently reported that a judge in a US federal court has ruled that patenting particular human DNA sequences is against the law. (See here and here for NPR reports.)

The company with the patents is Myriad, which holds the patents to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene sequences. Both of these genes, in their normal state, lead to the production of a tumor suppressor, which prevents many potential breast cancers. Myriad does tests to determine the kind of BRCA genes that an individual has, then, depending on the results, a woman may choose to have a mastectomy.The tests cost over $3,000. Myriad is reported to have "made $222 million on tests that cost $32 million to run" in "a recent year."

The Judge, according to NPR, ruled that a gene sequence is a product of nature, and hence not patentable.

Many scientists, and others, have argued that human gene sequences should not be patentable. The ruling will most likely be appealed, and the case may go to the US Supreme Court. This Wikipedia article says that about 20% of yours and my genes are under patent, and that patents for about 3,000,000 genes, in all have been applied for. (Probably including non-human organisms.)

Thanks for reading.


Keetha Denise Broyles said...

I heard that story on NPR.

I guess I'd been living in the wilderness somewhere because that was the FIRST I'd heard of a patent on a gene.

Really???? A patent on a GENE??? Like they in some imaginable way OWN my genes?

Ludicrous is what I say to that.

Martin LaBar said...

A pretty good percentage of our genes, and those of domesticated animals and plants, are under patent. Capitalism run amok, it seems to me.

Matthew Tietje said...


We talked about this story today on The Techology Show. We'd still love to have you as a guest sometime!


Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Matthew! Maybe I should come on the show.