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Companies hold patents on entire human genome

8 April 2013
Appeared in BioNews 699

A new study has reported that the entire human genome may be under patents held by commercial companies.

The report, published in the journal Genome Medicine, says that 41 percent of the human genome is currently subject to patents on 'long' DNA sequences and many patents over 'short' sequences have the aggregate potential to cover the whole of the human genome.

It concludes that with over 40,000 patents granted on DNA molecules, companies have made a claim to the entire human genome for commercial profit. 'If these patents are enforced, our genomic liberty is lost', said lead author Dr Christopher Mason of Weill Cornell Medical College, New York.

On 15 April 2013, the US Supreme Court will review the right of Myriad Genetics to claim patents not only on two key breast and ovarian cancer genes—BRCA1 and BRCA2—but also on any short sequences within BRCA1. Many of these short sequences are linked to other cancers, as well as genes involved in brain development and heart function.

'This means if the Supreme Court upholds the current scope of the patents, no physician or researcher can study the DNA of these genes from their patients, and no diagnostic test or drug can be developed based on any of these genes without infringing a patent', said Dr Mason, in a statement to Nature World News.

The impact of patents is onerous on researchers. 'Almost every day, I come across a gene that is patented—a situation that is common for every geneticist in every lab', Dr Mason told GenNews.

Dr Mason and his team examined the structure of the human genome and analysed both short and long fragments of DNA sequences. They found that every short fragment in the human genome matched at least one other gene. If all of the patents on short sequences were allowed in aggregate, they would cover virtually the entire genome.

'This demonstrates that short patent sequences are extremely nonspecific and one gene will always cross-match and patent a portion of another gene as well', says Dr Mason. 'This means it is actually impossible to have a patent for just one gene'.

Dr Mason describes this as 'patently ridiculous'. 

'I believe that individuals have an innate right to their own genome, or to allow their doctor to look at that genome, just like the lungs or kidneys', Dr Mason told GenNews.

'Failure to resolve these ambiguities perpetuates a direct threat to genomic liberty, or the right to one's own DNA'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Entire Human Genome Is Patented By For-Profit Companies
Nature World News |  27 March 2013
Pervasive sequence patents cover the entire human genome
Genome Medicine |  28 March 2013
Who Owns Your Genes?
Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News |  27 March 2013
You Don't 'Own' Your Own Genes
Weill Cornell Medical College (press release) |  25 March 2013
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