Do we own our own genes?


That was the startling subject of a study undertaken by  Jeffrey Rosenfeld and Christopher E Mason titled ‘Pervasive sequence patents cover the entire human genome’, and published on Science Daily in March, 2013.  

What does this mean for you and me?  Well, since the ruling on 13th June 2013 by the US Supreme Court that the human genome cannot be patented  (‘Can you patent the sun?’ asked a Dr Jonas Salk as far back as 1955, which goes to show just how long scientists have been thinking about it),  hopefully nothing untoward. Our doctors and consultants remain free to examine our DNA and treat conditions which have a genetic cause without fear of infringing patents.

In a decision that could undo thousands of questionable patents, freeing scientists and citizens from corporate overreach, the Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that human genes—as products of nature—cannot be claimed as private property. – http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/supreme-court-we-own-our-genes

But to a science-fiction writer like me, the question of whether or not we might own our own genome, or whether the building blocks of all our lives could someday be in the control of scientists and/or commercial interests, is food for the imagination. My novel, ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ (due August 2016) ponders one possible outcome of gene therapy, and there are almost as many possible scenarios as there are strands of DNA …  I plan to return to the theme (genetics, what could happen as a result of scientific research) in a future novel, because the subject fascinates me.  Does it interest you, or frighten you?  I’d love to know!

EJ Jackson  April 2016

Acknowledgments:

  1. Jeffrey Rosenfeld, and Christopher E Mason. Pervasive sequence patents cover the entire human genome. Genome Medicine, 2013 (in press) DOI: 10.1186/gm431
  2. Weill Cornell Medical College. “You don’t ‘own’ your own genes: Researchers raise alarm about loss of individual ‘genomic liberty’ due to gene patents.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 March 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130326101614.htm>.

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