Patenting the genes of marine life and what it means for medicine

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Mediterranean sea slug Cratena peregrina. Image credit: Gabriella Luongo
[Marine animal] DNA is included among thousands of patents owned by BASF, which calls itself “the largest chemical producer in the world.” The German company has acquired nearly half of the 13,000 patents derived from 862 marine organisms genetic sequences.

Whether a single private entity should be able to set the direction of how the genes of so many living things are used was a piece of a broader debate at the United Nations this month.

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Most are looking for organisms with exceptional traits that might offer the missing piece in their new product. That is why patents are filled with “extremophiles,” known for doing well in extreme darkness, cold, acidity and other harsh environments, said Robert Blasiak, a researcher from the Stockholm Resilience Centre who was involved in the patent study.

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But how can multiple entities patent the same worm — or snail?

In most countries it’s not possible to patent “a product of nature.” But what companies and research institutions can do is patent a novel application of a given organism, or more specifically, its genes.

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Among patent applications that have gotten somewhere: a sea slug contributed to a lymphoma treatment, a sea squirt’s genes helped in a chemotherapy drug and a marine snail’s DNA were used to formulate a pain medication, Mr. Blasiak said. But most don’t ever make it to market.

Read full, original post: What 13,000 Patents Involving the DNA of Sea Life Tell Us About the Future

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