In the race to identify patent and commercialize human genes, scientists and their corporate partners are collecting DNA samples from remote island populations in the South Atlantic, Micronesia and the east China sea. This issue highlights Sequana's search for the "asthma gene" derived from DNA samples collected from the people of Tristan da Cunha.
Recent Content Related to Patents & Biopiracy
Privatization and patenting of microorganisms is encouraged by WTO TRIPs. RAFI examines the value of microbial markets and microbial biopiracy.
This document reviews the year-long controversy over Agracetus's species-wide patent on all genetically modified soybean varieties. In April 1994, with the support of 18 CSOs worldwide, RAFI announced it would formally challenge the patent at the European Patent Office. A summary of RAFI's opposition statement appears here. A 14 page document.
Pharmaceutical companies dont want to study rare plants. They want to test the most - commonly used species. The valuable medical plants are those with the longest track record in the most location. In a survey of almost 1.000 medical plants used around the world, most of the pharmacologically - (and commercially) interesting species are employed in more than one community, and often, in several countries. This is great news for BioPirates, who can move benevolently from place to place in search of the best deal.
With the advent of new biotechnologies and the emergence of new international agreements, microbial genetic resources are taking on growing importance in North/South negotiations. A 51 page document.
ISSUE: Despite international controversy over the patenting of human genes and other life forms, US-based genomic companies (in partnership with major pharmaceutical corporations), are filing patents for exclusive monopoly control on human genes and gene fragments.
IMPACT: The commercial potential of genomic technologies is still untested and unproved. But the commodification of human genetic material raises many profound questions: Who will control the genes and genetic information that may someday unlock secrets to genetic diagnosis and treatment of human diseases? Will the patent grab on human genes ultimately thwart innovation as well as information exchange between public and private sector researchers, and between North and South? Who will benefit, and at what cost to society?
ISSUE: On March 2, 1994 Agracetus, Inc. (a subsidiary of W.R. Grace & Co.) received a European Patent on all transgenic soybean varieties. The company has a similar patent pending in the USA. In addition, Agracetus has a world patent (WIPO) pending for genetic transformation of rice.
IMPACT: Sweeping patent claims on all transgenic soybeans, a previous patent on all transgenic cotton, and a portfolio of patents pending on other major crops--(rice, groundnuts, maize and more) give W.R. Grace legal monopolies and exclusive control over any genetically engineered variety of soybeans and cotton for the life of the patent. A major chemical corporation is thus positioned to control the direction of future biotechnology research on two of the world's major food and industrial crops. These shocking examples of species-wide" patent claims confirm that the intellectual property system as applied to biotechnology products and processes is out of control, posing a serious threat to global food security and the well-being of small farmers.
Issue: In the 1980's US court decisions set international precedent for the patenting of human genetical material. As a result, exclusive monopolies over human genetic materials are becoming commonplace in the industrialized world, without discussion of the social, ethical and political implications. Perhaps most disturbing is the degree to which orinary citizens, both North and South, have been marginalized from discussion and debate on the patenting of human genetic material.
-Human Genome Diversity Project
-US Patents Awarded on Materials Derived from African Plants: Monelli0n and Thaumatin
-Bovine Growth Hormone
-Genetically Engineered Human Milk Proteins
-Bio-Piracy and Neem
-Who Owns Bt and
Patent-like claims on two coloured cotton varieties raise many questions and concerns about the ownership and control of coloured cotton, and the lack of compensation for indigenous knowledge and germplasm from the South.
The University of Toledo applies for a patent on Ethiopia's Endod to control zebra mussels, but royalties will not go to the plant's original innovators.
IBPGR's role related to embargoes requires close examination.
Agricultural inputs (seeds, pesticides, fertilizers) are undergoing majore corporate and technological change.
The use of genetic engineering to make plants tolerant of the damaging effects of herbicides.
Ownership and control of new livestock breeds will become concentrated in hands of biotechnology companies, result in higher costs for farmers and encourage genetic uniformity in animal breeds.
The International Board of Plant Genetic Resources is undertaking an evaluation of each gene bank which is previously designated as a "base" for plant germplasm storage. A partial report covering the first 17 banks was submitted to the board in February, 1987, exposing major security problems.
Issue: Replacement of major cash crop (Gum Arabic)
Countries affected: Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan and others
Impact: Possible loss of $ 60 million in annual export earnings and seasonal employment
New starch-based substitutes for gum arabic and other water soluble gums threaten to replace a major portion of gum exports from several African countries.