Patenting of Isolated DNA Material

by Catherine Haug

According to a news report from the New York Times (“U.S. Says Genes Should Not be Eligible for Patents,” by Andrew Pollack, Oct 29, 2010):

“Reversing a longstanding policy, the federal government said on Friday that human and other genes should not be eligible for patents because they are part of nature. The new position could have a huge impact on medicine and on the biotechnology industry.

The new position was declared in a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Department of Justice late Friday in a case involving two human genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer.” (1,2)

This ruling directly affects current and future “development of diagnostic tests, drugs and the emerging field of personalized medicine, in which drugs are tailored for individual patients based on their genes.”(1)

So I wonder, what does this mean for Genetically Engineered (GMO) crops, and foods?

According to the NY Times article, the position concerns un-altered (natural) genes, because “the mere isolation of a gene, without further alteration or manipulation, does not change its nature.” (1)

As such, then, the ruling would not necessarily apply to altered (genetically engineered or GE) genes. In fact, the government suggested:

“Such a change would have limited impact on the biotechnology industry because man-made manipulations of DNA, like methods to create genetically modified crops or gene therapies, could still be patented.”(1)

However, I think this new ruling opens the door to future changes in GE policy.

We still have a long way to go, and we can be sure that big Ag and big Pharma will be watching this closely and fighting back, for their very livelihood is at stake.



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