Patenting Gods Creation?
might think that the controversy over whether we should patent
knowledge of DNA sequences would be limited to an argument among
scientists, biotechnology companies, and the government. Yet,
religious voices have been raised. The loudest
of the religious voices have shouted No! to
patenting intellectual property regarding genes, on the grounds
that DNA belongs to Gods creation. Where are we on this?
1990s chapter in the larger story of the controversy over patenting
life forms began with the initial filing, by J. Craig Venter,
in June, 1991, for patent property rights on 337 gene fragments,
and a second filing in February, 1992, on 2,375 more partial gene
sequences. Venters method of research, based on a deceptively
simple insight, was key. The task of the Human Genome Project
has been to sequence the entire 3 billion nucleotides in the DNA
and to locate where on the DNA the genes are sited. Relatively
speaking, only a small portion of the DNA functions as genes-
about 3%. The non-genetic material has been affectionately labeled
junk DNA. If one wants to find only the genes, thought
Venter, then why bother with plodding through all the junk DNA?
Noting that only the genes, not the junk DNA, code for proteins
by creating messenger RNA (mRNA), Venter set his focus on mRNA.
He began making sturdier clone copies of the otherwise fragile
mRNA; and these stronger and analyzable copies he called cDNAs.
By sequencing only the cDNAs he could be assured that he was gaining
knowledge of actual genes; and by focusing the research this way
he brought the price of sequencing down dramatically. By sequencing
a short stretch of cDNA clonesabout 300 to 500 bases, and
not necessarily the entire geneVenter created what he called
an expressed sequence tag, or EST. Venter had begun
using automatic sequencing machines to the limit of their capacity
and was churning out 50 to 150 such tags per day.
the fall of 1992, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office made a
preliminary ruling denying the applications, on the grounds that
gene fragments could not be patented without knowing the function
of the gene. This threw the ball into the court of the private
sector, where similar patent applications have been filed. Some
were filed by Venter
and his colleagues after he left NIH, having garnered $70 million
in venture capital to start a private biotech company, The Institute
for Genomic Research (TIGR).The result has been controversy with numerous hotly debated questions.
knowledge of DNA sequences in the original or natural human genome
be patentable? In order to qualify for a patent, an invention
must meet three criteria: It must be novel, non-obvious, and useful.
At this writing, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued
more than 1,200 patents of the type mentioned above, assuming
that these patents meet the three criteria. Do they?
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| Contributed by: Dr. Ted Peters