Patenting human life

Year Published:  1992
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX4465

A laboratory in the United States is seeking hundreds of patents on various parts of human DNA which its researchers have identified. The U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) has been analyzing various fragments of "complementary DNA or cDNA". Its technicians don't even know what the function of the various gene fragments is: they merely describe their composition, at the rate of 50 to 150 a day, and then take out a patent as the 'discoverer'. The laboratory is not the first in the U.S. to take out a legal patent on parts of the human body, but it is doing it on a more massive scale. Other scientists have been critical of the lab's actions. "I think it's disgusting," said Charles Cantor, a University of California biologist, predicting that the result would be "a disastrous and revolting gold rush to patent everything, every bit of sequence in the world." Sir Walter Bodmer, president of the International Human Gene Organization in London, called the U.S. move "disgraceful". However, Reid Adler, director of the NIH's Office of Technology Transfer, said the NIH was acting in accordance with a U.S. law requiring public laboratories to try to transfer their discoveries to commercial interests.

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