CCC Gene Ownership Discussion

Read the article found in section 9A: Biochemical Connections: Law in your digital book.

Using the Concorde’s Online Library, your digital material, and other scholarly websites, discuss the following:

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  • What are your feelings regarding the article?
  • Describe, in detail, what the following statement means, “What can be patented is purified DNA containing the sequence of the gene and techniques that allow the study of the genes.”
  • How do you see the patenting of genes/DNA impacting science and medicine over the next 30 years?
  • Do you believe this trend is ethical? Why/why not?

Step 2: Compile your thoughts & research and write a 3-5 page paper addressing the topics and questions above.

Step 3:Once complete, save your file and submit.

  • You are required to have at least two outside resources, at the scholarly level. Wikipedia is not acceptable. You are encouraged to use Concorde’s Online Library: Gale Resources

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Chapter 9: Nucleic Acids: How Structure Conveys Information: 9A Biochemical Connections: Law
Book Title: Biochemistry
Printed By: Omar Ibrahim (omar.chikhibrahim@casan.concorde.edu)
© 2018 Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning
9A Biochemical Connections: Law
Who Owns Your Genes?
“There is a gene in your body’s cells that plays a key role in early spinal cord development.
It belongs to Harvard University. Incyte Corporation, based in Wilmington, Del., has
patented the gene for a receptor for histamine, the compound released by cells during the
hay fever season. About half of all the genes known to be involved in cancer are patented.”
Following the explosion in information that came from the Human Genome Project (see
Biochemical Connections 9B), commercial firms, universities, and even government
agencies began to look for patents on genes, which began a long philosophical and legal
battle that continues to this day. Human cells have about
genes, which are the
blueprint for the
trillion cells in our body. About
percent of the human genome has
been patented. As of 2006, Incyte Corporation owned about
percent of all known human
genes.
So the question that comes to mind is, “how can a company patent a biological entity?”
Well, clearly they cannot actually patent you or your genes, at least not the ones you carry
around. What can be patented is purified DNA containing the sequence of the gene and
techniques that allow the study of the genes. The idea of patenting information began with a
landmark case in 1972 when Ananda M. Chakrabarty, a General Electric engineer, filed for a
patent on a strain of Pseudomonas bacteria that could break down oil slicks more efficiently.
He experimented with the bacteria, getting them to take up DNA from plasmids that
conferred the clean-up ability. The patent office rejected the patent on the grounds that
products of nature and live organisms cannot be patented. However, the battle was not
over, and in 1980 the Supreme Court heard the appeal in the same year that the techniques
of molecular biology and recombinant DNA technology really began to take off. Chief Justice
Warren Burger declared arguments against patenting life irrelevant by stating, “anything
under the sun that is made by man” could be patented. The ruling was close, only
in
favor of Chakrabarty, and the ramifications continue to this day. Patents have been issued
for gene sequences, whole organisms such as specific bacteria, and cell types like stem
cells. A patent on a clone gene or the protein it produces gives the owner exclusivity in
marketing the protein, such as insulin or erythropoietin. As of 2005, the largest holder of
scientific patents was the University of California, with more than
patents. The U.S.
government was second with
, and the first commercial enterprise on the list, Sanofi
Aventis, came in third at
(Figure 9.7).
Figure 9.7
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This map of the chromosomes offers an indication of how often genes have been
patented in the United States. Each colored bar represents the number of patents in
a given segment of a chromosome, which can contain several genes. Patents can
claim multiple genes, and one gene may receive multiple patents. As a result, the
number of patents indicated for each chromosome does not necessarily match the
sum of the values represented by the colored bars.
A figure shows five maps of chromosome that shows how often
genes have been patented in the United States. The map shows
colored bars that represents patents that can contain genes. The
first map shows 2,769 genes and 504 patents, second map
shows 1,776 genes and 330 patents, third map shows 1,445
genes and 307 patents, fourth map shows 1,023 genes and 215
patents and fifth map shows 1,261 genes and 254 patents.
(Laurie Grace)
There are many issues stirring the controversy. Proponents for the patent system point out
that it takes money to drive research. Companies will not want to invest hundreds of
thousands to millions of dollars in research if they cannot get a tangible gain. Allowing them
to patent a product means they can eventually recover their investment. Opponents believe
a patent on what amounts to information stifles more research and even prevents the
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advancement of medicine. If a company holds the patent to a gene known to be involved in
a disease, then others cannot study it effectively and perhaps come up with better or
cheaper treatments. The latter point of view has come under intense scrutiny recently
because patents on diagnostic genes inhibit both research and clinical medicine. At the
heart of the conflict are patents for two genes related to breast cancer, BRCA 1 and BRCA
2, both owned by Myriad Genetics, Inc., of Salt Lake City. In 2009 a group of patients,
doctors, and research professionals brought a suit to invalidate those patents. They argued
that the two genes are “products of nature” and should never have been patented in the first
place. The long-term effects of such a suit are important enough that the American Civil
Liberties Union has joined the plaintiffs.
Opponents of gene patents claimed a big victory in March 2010 when Federal Court Judge
Robert Sweet ruled against Myriad in the suit of BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, stating the human
genes cannot be patented. So who owns your genes? At the moment, you do. See the Hot
Topic on breast cancer at the end of this chapter for more about BRCA 1 and 2.
Chapter 9: Nucleic Acids: How Structure Conveys Information: 9A Biochemical Connections: Law
Book Title: Biochemistry
Printed By: Omar Ibrahim (omar.chikhibrahim@casan.concorde.edu)
© 2018 Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning
© 2021 Cengage Learning Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this work may by reproduced or used in any form or by any means graphic, electronic, or mechanical, or in any other manner – without the written permission of the copyright holder.
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