Yesterday, the US supreme court ruled that companies cannot take out patents on segments of human DNA that have been identified. Up until now, companies have held patents on gene segments that exist inside human beings. My question is: how is this even up for debate? I know our society has a finders-keepers mentality, but does it really extend as far as things inside your body? Did the man who discovered the spleen have intellectual property rights on your spleen?
Lets not get confused about what DNA is. It’s a complex molecule inside each of your cells. Some people like to say that DNA contains information, that DNA is a language. In a sense that’s true, but only since we discovered it. DNA is split, duplicated, and processed by tiny things inside your cells called organelles. They respond to certain chemical stimuli. They are not reading a code. They do not have brains or eyes. Don’t get me wrong, the production and reproduction of DNA is an amazing process, one of the most astonishing things in nature, but it is not a language in the sense that written english or german are languages because it is not a symbolic representation. Rather it is a purely chemical process. DNA only contains information once there is a brain able to process that information. Until then it contains as much information as any other molecule.
So basically, to patent a section of DNA is patenting something that is inside every human, occurred naturally, and has been there for many thousands of years: just like my spleen. The supreme court definitely made the right call on this one. The line has to be drawn somewhere and “things inside my body” seems to be a good place to stop ownership.
What do you think? Should companies be allowed to own the rights gene segments stored inside your cells?