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What are the implications of gene patenting?

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Introduction

What are the implications of gene patenting? In 1997, the US Patent Office agreed to allow patenting of gene strands with no known biological function if they were likely to have industrial use. The result has been that big academic labs and companies have been sequencing and patenting sequences in order to secure private investment.1 The topic has been surrounded by a large amount of controversy and there are numerous sides to the arguments. Biotechnology firms claim that if they couldn't patent genes it wouldn't be worth their while developing life-saving drugs and therapies, while many scientists, religious believers, humanists and environmental campaigners find loathsome the concept of private, for-profit corporations staking claims to what is literally a human birthright.2 A claimed advantage of gene patenting is that it encourages the "inventor" to publish details of their discoveries, allowing academic scientists to study it. However, once one of these researchers uses developments based on the original patent by perhaps forming a partnership with a drugs firm or charging patients at cost for a genetic test, the holder of the patent has the right to stop them or oblige them to pay a licence fee.2 The extent of costs may therefore hinder any progress. ...read more.

Middle

If patents are keeping diagnostic tests out of labs, quality of testing could suffer because laboratories traditionally exchange samples with each other to check quality. Fewer laboratories are now doing the tests meaning fewer researchers accumulate knowledge about genes.5 Gene patenting may also hinder progress to help people in the third world. In 1992 a US company was granted a patent over all genetically engineered cotton. The company used a bacterium to transfer genes into the cotton plant, but the patent meant that the company also had rights over cotton produced using other genetic engineering techniques. In 1994, the same company was awarded a similar patent in Europe over soya beans. Such wide-reaching patents discourage research by other geneticists into both species and could prevent poor countries from trying to improve these crops and solve local pest problems through genetic engineering.3 Patenting a discovery can also slow down the transfer of information between scientists. It can take many months for a country's patent office to decide whether to grant a patent. During this time, the scientist cannot talk about his or her discovery at a conference, or publish the results, because the research might be copied before it is protected by a patent. ...read more.

Conclusion

Until the discovery there was no way to make monoclonal antibodies in large amounts. By fusing together cells that made antibodies with cells that live forever, the result was an endless supply of identical monoclonal antibodies. The discovery was not patented and British research missed out on millions of pounds in patent charges but monoclonal antibodies are now widely used in medicine.3 In my opinion, the cost of treatments because of drug companies patenting gene sequences will be unreachable for much of the world population. The best idea would be to ban patenting of genes and for funding for medical research to be paid for by a tax on the drug companies themselves. Gene patenting is just another example of capitalism destroying the planet and the moral implications should not be forgotten either. The genes do not belong to the person who discovered them, they belong to the human race as a whole, it is as if that person owns a part of us. 1The Penguin Dictionary of Biology - Thain, Hickman, 2000 2Guardian Unlimited, http://www.guardian.co.uk - Meek, 2000 3Genetic Engineering - Bryan, 1995 4Academic Medicine Online - Scherer, 2002 5New Scientist - Motluk, 2002 Biology Viyaasan Mahalingasivam - L6AJWH ...read more.

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