In the future, doctors will be able to diagnose the diseases we're likely to get, such as heart disease and diabetes, by looking at our DNA. That way, they'll be able to give us concrete advice about our health habits. But what if they have to consult the company who has patented our genes first? You may not know it, but you don't "own" your own genes--Through more than 40,000 patents on DNA molecules, companies have essentially claimed the entire human genome for profit.
When a research team examined two types of patented DNA sequences--long and short fragments--they discovered that 41% percent of the human genome is covered by DNA patents that often cover whole genes.
They also found that, because many genes share similar sequences within their genetic structure, if all of the "short sequence" patents were allowed in aggregate, they could account for 100% of the genome.
Geneticist Christopher E. Mason says, "If these patents are enforced, our genomic liberty is lost. Just as we enter the era of personalized medicine, we are ironically living in the most restrictive age of genomics. You have to ask, how is it possible that my doctor cannot look at my DNA without being concerned about patent infringement?
"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."
Will our laws keep up with our science? The US Supreme Court will review genomic patent rights in an upcoming hearing.
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