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Who owns your DNA? Who owns caves?

November 8, 2011

Chicago science eventsOn Thursday November 10, 2011 the Chicago Council on Science & Technology will be hosting a discussion on Gene Patenting: The Economic, Legal, and Health Dilemma. What is the dilemma?

DNA has been around for 100’s of million’s of years. Dinosaurs had DNA, bacteria have DNA, and humans have DNA; it’s at the essence of who we are–your body is designed based on the sequence of your DNA. Big biotech companies think specific sequences of DNA are patentable, and once patented, they have full control of all research allowed on that sequence of DNA and rights to revenue. Can anyone “own” or patent DNA? Besides me owning that which resides in my body, my answer is NO. Here’s a similar, but unpatentable situation:

Who owns your DNA?

The January 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine has an article called Conquering an Infinite Cave. It discusses expeditions in Vietnam’s massive labyrinth of caves called Hang Son Doong. Scientists have spent the past few decades exploring the vast expanse of the cave which, in some spots, has “room enough for an entire New York City block of 40-story buildings.” Recently a group of scientists, cavers, film crew, and porters have discovered one of the longest river caves in the world, along with new species of plants and animals. Does the crew own newly discovered regions of the cave? How bout the newly identified plants or animals? The cave attracts a quarter million Vietnamese and foreign visitors a year, dramatically increasing the income of local villagers. Do the explorers have a right to a percentage of this revenue?

Some people believe patents encourage innovation, others (me) think it inhibits competition, which fuels innovation. What do you think? Is DNA, or caves, patentable?

Thanks for reading, be happy, and letUbeU!

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