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A new study shows that 20 percent of human genes have been patented in the United States, primarily by private firms and universities.
The study, which is reported this week in the journal Science, is the first time that a detailed map has been created to match patents to specific physical locations on the human genome.
Researchers can patent genes because they are potentially valuable research tools, useful in diagnostic tests or to discover and produce new drugs.
"It might come as a surprise to many people that in the U.S. patent system human DNA is treated like other natural chemical products," said Fiona Murray, a business and science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and a co-author of the study.
"An isolated DNA sequence can be patented in the same manner that a new medicine, purified from a plant, could be patented if an inventor identifies a [new] application."
Gene patents were central to the biotech boom of the 1980s and 1990s. The earliest gene patents were obtained around 1978 on the gene for human growth hormone.
The human genome project and the introduction of rapid sequencing techniques brought a deluge of new genetic information and many new patents. Yet there has been little comprehensive research about the extent of gene patenting.
The new study reveals that more than 4,000 genes, or 20 percent of the almost 24,000 human genes, have been claimed in U.S. patents.
Of the patented genes, about 63 percent are assigned to private firms and 28 percent are assigned to universities.
The top patent assignee is Incyte, a Palo Alto, California-based drug company whose patents cover 2,000 human genes.
"Gene patents give their owners property rights over gene sequences—for example in a diagnostic test, as a test for the efficacy of a new drug, or in the production of therapeutic proteins," Murray said.
Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has expressed concern at "people taking the place of God."
Originally posted by Dulcimer
Monsanto. Monsanto likes to play God. Hopefully they keep their mitts off us.
Originally posted by Ambient Sound
[sarcasm] Just wait until they try to charge you a fee for using your own genetic structure. [/sarcasm]
Originally posted by Nygdan
The patent holders don't own anyone and you aren't violating any patent laws merely by holding these genes. If you wanted to, say, have genetic engineering done on you and wanted to use a gene that they
- worked out the protein product for and
- worked out how it functions
then, and I think this is sensible, you'd have to pay to have the procedure done.
Originally posted by ShadowXIX
One of the worst things about these Gene patents it could very well hinder medical advancements.
...Well I also think patents on Human genes is just insane. They throw out a requested patent on Human/animal chimeras but they allow this