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  • Imagine an patented apple.

  • Just like only Nabisco can sell Oreos and only Unilever

  • can sell Marmite, imagine there was only one company worldwide with the right to harvest

  • apples.

  • That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

  • Now imagine a patented gene sequence.

  • Imagine a single company had exclusive rights to all usages of a particular section of the

  • human genome.

  • That would also be absurd, right?

  • Back in 1990, renowned geneticist Mary-Claire King made an announcement that shook

  • the worldshe and her research team had discovered that somewhere in this section

  • of the 17th chromosome was a gene linked to breast

  • cancer.

  • She didn’t know exactly where it was, or what it was, or why it was linked to cancer,

  • all she knew was that it was there.

  • What followed was a race to find this so-called

  • breast-cancer gene.”

  • Colleges, companies, and governments all devoted enormous resources

  • to finding the gene that could tell people, with

  • relatively accuracy, whether they would contract cancer years before any other test.

  • With preventative mastectomies, survival rates

  • for this type of cancer could skyrocket.

  • Then, in 1994, it happened.

  • A team of researchers from the University of Utah announced they had found

  • the geneBRCA1.

  • Soon after, they found another similar gene with nearly identical affects

  • BRCA2.

  • Females found to have a mutation in one of these two genes have an 80%

  • chance of contracting breast cancer in their lifetimes, but the good news was that you

  • could test for it.

  • This was a life-changing breakthrough for the thousands found to have the mutation

  • yearly.

  • Some of the researchers from the University of Utah saw the commercial application

  • of this and founded a companyMyriad Geneticswhich soon patented the two genes,

  • quite literally.

  • In their patent document is the full genetic sequence of the BRCA1 gene.

  • 21,328 characters of G’s, C’s, A’s, and T’s

  • that represent what is in the human body.

  • They patented something inside you, something not all that

  • different than patenting that apple.

  • The apple is too just a long sequence of G’s, C’s, A’s,

  • and T’s.

  • The only difference is that it’s longer.

  • Myriad genetics, as the only company globally allowed

  • to do anything with the BRCA genes, had an absolute monopoly on testing.

  • If you wanted to see if you had the gene mutation that would

  • give you a heads up on cancer, you had to go to Myriad, and so it came at a priceup

  • to $4,000 even though the actual process of performing

  • the test cost only a fraction of that.

  • This was almost certainly unjust, and so the ACLU took notice.

  • They, along with a group of plaintiffs, sued Myriad Genetics

  • on the basis that their patents were on non-patentable materialthe human genome.

  • Much like you can’t patent an apple because you didn’t create

  • the apple, the plaintiffs argued that Myriad couldn’t patent the genes because they didn’t

  • create them, nature did, but Myriad was not alone in the process of patenting genes.

  • In fact, at the time, 21 percent of the human

  • genome had been patented.

  • The District Court ended up ruling in the plaintiffs favor, so

  • Myriad appealed and the case went to a Federal Appeals court that ended up ruling in Myriad’s

  • favor so the ACLU petitioned for their case to be

  • heard in the Supreme Court.

  • They agreed, and on April 15th, 2013 the case of the Association for

  • Molecular Pathology vs Myriad Genetics, Inc reached Washington.

  • In a stunning turn of events, all nine Supreme Court justices sided in the

  • the plaintiffs favor therefore virtually ending the

  • process of human genome patents, but was it right?

  • Up to this point Myriad has probably seemed like the bad guy, but consider this.

  • The individuals who founded Myriad were the ones

  • that discovered the effect of the gene mutation in

  • question, so shouldn’t they be rewarded for their years of work?

  • That’s really the question with all patents.

  • On one hand patents drive innovation because they allow companies to monetize

  • discoveries that cost huge amounts to research and develop, but on the other hand restrictive

  • patents and monopolies stop these innovations from getting to the people who need them most.

  • Without the ability to make money off of genetic testing, it can be argued that many companies

  • won’t have the motivation to research genetic predispositions.

  • So that brings us to the critical question: what should be patentable?

  • There are certainly cases where patents on genetic material have helped.

  • In this age where editing genome sequences is cheap and

  • easy, it’s very possible for companies to modify

  • organisms in a way that make them true, original creations that can be legitimately patented.

  • For example, the apple we talked about at the

  • beginning could not be patented, but a genetically modified applethat’s fair

  • game.

  • In fact, patents on genetically modified food have existed for decades.

  • Golden Rice is a much lauded yet controversial variety of genetically

  • modified rice that includes a high amount of beta-carotene which helps treat vitamin-a

  • deficiencyan affliction that kills up to two million

  • individuals yearly in developing countries.

  • As a crop that is cheap, easy to cultivate, and already

  • popular in developing countries, a fortified variety of

  • rice can help millions yearly.

  • The rice does not, however, have much of a commercial application

  • since the places that need it are the places without the money to buy other treatments

  • to vitamin a deficiency.

  • Nonetheless, by holding the patent, the owners are able to manage the distribution

  • of the seeds by giving them for free to any farmer who makes less than $10,000 a year

  • while funding the program with limited commercial

  • applications elsewhere.

  • Although, some companies have a more commercial focus.

  • 93% of corn in the US is genetically modified and much of that comes

  • from Monsanto.

  • Monsanto sells different varieties of genetically modified corn and

  • other crops under different brands just like you

  • would any other product.

  • There’s SmartStax Rib complete which is less susceptible to

  • destructive insects; there’s Roundup Ready corn that isn't affected by Roundup, a

  • herbicide that kills weeds; and there’s DroughtGard corn which is more tolerant to

  • lower levels of water during dry years.

  • When a farmer wants to use one of these variants of corn

  • they just go to a dealer and buy the seeds like any other product, except the difference

  • between seeds and traditional products is that seeds

  • grow into plants which make more seeds.

  • If Monsanto allowed farmers to keep and share their seeds

  • they would only be able to sell the product once,

  • so they don’t.

  • Those who buy the product are required to sign an agreement to not save or share

  • any seed and those who do and get caught are met by a hefty lawsuit.

  • But this isn't really different than any other product.

  • This is their form of rights management.

  • When you watch a video on Netflix, in the terms of use, you

  • have agreed to only use their product for yourself just like the farmers agreed to only

  • use the Monsanto seed for themselves even though, with both products, it’s rather

  • easy to share.

  • Just like with patented gene sequences, there’s the question of where the line is

  • between patents improving and harming the greater good.

  • If companies are not able to recuperate research and development cost, they

  • won’t research or develop.

  • In a free market, farmers can choose whether or not to buy the

  • Monsanto seeds given the terms and, overwhelmingly, they do because the seeds make more

  • money than they cost.

  • It’s just simple math.

  • You should form your own opinion on patented genetically modified plants and seeds,

  • but it’s indisputable that there are upsides that can be argued, though, what about animals?

  • In 1980 the US supreme court decided that genetically

  • modified animals could be patented if they were altered in a meaningful way from their

  • original selves.

  • European patent law considers the same true.

  • In fact, you might already be eating genetically modified animals without even

  • knowing it.

  • The company AquaBounty Technologies successfully created a variant16 of

  • salmon that grows at a faster rate and so they patented itthe AquAdvantage salmonand

  • in 2016, it hit the shelves in Canada.

  • Researchers have found the salmon safe to eat, but it is, of

  • course, different.

  • If the genetically modified salmon were to be accidentally released into the

  • wild, some are concerned that their genetic makeup could spread by outcompeting the normal

  • salmon, although in computer models it was concluded that the normal salmon would prevail

  • since it has a higher fertility rate.

  • In the US, the AquAdvantage salmon has been approved by the

  • FDA, but it cannot be sold until labeling standards for genetically food are developed.

  • But just imagine the next step.

  • Genetically modified humans are coming and whether or

  • not companies will be allowed to patent their processes will have a huge effect on how

  • commonplace human gene editing will become.

  • The Myriad genetics case only decided that patents on naturally occurring gene sequences

  • were not allowed, but the decision that allowed patents on genetically modified animals specifically

  • excluded humans meaning that as of now you would not be granted a patent for human

  • gene editing in the US, but there are plenty of other

  • countries.

  • Most have not even considered this question.

  • If you imagine a world with patented, commercial human gene editing, you are imaging

  • a world where you can decide if your child will have blue eyes or not, if theyre tall

  • or not, if theyre smart or not, if they are autistic or not,

  • if they will have heart disease or not, if they will have alzheimer’s or not, if they

  • will have cancer or not.

  • The real question is not if it’s ethical to allow patented human gene editing.

  • It’s if it’s ethical to not.

  • If you want to learn more about genetic research, there’s a great course that I

  • recommend on Skillshare calledAn Introduction To Bioinformatics.”

  • As youve heard before, Skillshare is a great source of over

  • 18,000 classes about anything and everything.

  • This specific course covers the rather interesting subject of bioinformatics which is the

  • interdisciplinary field combining computer science and genetic research building software

  • to analyze genetic information.

  • This one and a third hour course gives a great overview of

  • the topic and you can access it for free by signing up for Skillshare at skl.sh/wendover2.

  • If bioinformatics isn’t what you're interested

  • in, you should at least sign up and look at all

  • their other courses because with so many, youre bound to find one youre interested

  • in.

  • Learn something new in the new year and sign up for Skillshare here to get two free

  • months of learning.

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B2 中高級 美國腔

基因专利问题(The Gene Patent Question)

  • 1 1
    joey joey 發佈於 2021 年 06 月 10 日
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