Gene patents. The story is still not resolved!

It is hard to believe that almost one year has passed since my last post. That year was very busy, so busy in fact that I did not have any inspiration to read and write anything aside from what is directly relevant to my research. Realizing how Koyaanisqatsi my life has become, I am trying re-balance it.

I just read a small news piece in the journal Science about the ongoing U.S. Supreme Court case on gene patents. Can you believe that this issue is still unresolved? If you are a reasonable person who understands what genes are, I think it is pretty obvious that they cannot be patented. It’s like trying to patent, say, “the left lung”, or “the red blood cells”, or any other part of human organism. It’s absurd. Of course, corporations are concerned with one question, and that question is no not whether something is reasonable/ethical/fair/etc or not. The question is about money. If they could make money by patenting the left lung, they certainly would. The only reason they do not do it is because the absurdity of such intention is obvious. Lungs are big. Everybody can feel them. Everybody understands what they are doing. Nobody would accept the idea that their very own lung in their very own chest would by owned by somebody else. At least I hope nobody would! Genes on the other hand are small. Nobody can see them. Very few people really understand what they are doing. So, the absurdity of the statement that somebody would own some part of you is suddenly blurred.

Just so you know, the company that currently owns the patents to BRCA genes, and by doing so has effectively monopolized the market of breast and ovarian cancer testing, is Myriad Inc. The fact that Dr. Walter Gilbert, a Nobel Prize winner in 1980 in chemistry and a Harvard professor, sits on their board of directors and endorses such absurd legal actions is very disappointing.

If you are wondering what kind of arguments can the Myriad attorneys possibly present in favor of patenting genes, here is one:  “isolated” BRCA genes are laboratory products and, unlike chromosomes, they do not occur in nature. By the same logic, “isolated” left lungs are laboratory products and, unlike entire human bodies, do not occur in nature. (Welcome to the world of legal language.)

Good day!