Patents on Human Biology and Animal Species

A disturbing number of lifeforms—including organisms that have symbiotic relationships with the human body, and human genetic variable codes as well—are being patented. Some see this ‘biotech gold rush’ to patent life as highly questionable, perhaps unethical.

Testbiotech, a scientific watchdog group, has taken the unprecedented step of publishing a black list of patents granted in Europe to companies that are seeking to establish monopolies on everything from single cells and processes to chimpanzees genetically engineered to have epilepsy.

The organization’s initiative, “No Patents on Life,” seeks regulation to slow the rush to create laboratory hybrids or chimeras and such potential horrors as “manimals”—animals with human DNA, even whole body parts. While research is important and much of it can serve to eliminate disease and future human suffering, Testbiotech says it does not believe that the path to achieving medical breakthroughs is by creating modern day Frankensteinian labs.

Others in the biotech industry disagree and claim that Testbiotech—and similar organizations—are overreacting to research and that the intent is not to patent all life and then charge fees to use it, but to facilitate knowledge and engineer biological architecture designed to eliminate or treat existing diseases more effectively.

Yet what concerns organizations watching the steady stream of patents granted on life processes and life itself, are futurists that wax poetic about how genetic patents will shape the future of Mankind and change the human race too.

Recently, Juan Enriquez, the managing director of Excel Venture Management that funds start-up biotech companies, painted a grand vision that raised the issue that the ultimate biotech goal is to create a new human race. The new human race would be free of disease, stronger, smarter and have greatly extended lifespans.

“Thanks to new genomics technologies, scientists have not only been able to read organisms’ genomes faster than ever before, they can also write increasingly complex changes into those genomes, creating organisms with new capabilities.

“The ability to engineer life is going to spark a revolution that will dwarf the industrial and digital revolutions.” [Source]

Of course most, if not all of that, will be patented.

Observing the current patent frenzy and some bizarre lifeforms being created through bio-amalgams of human-animals and “plantimals,”
Testbiotech is calling for an extensive revision of the current patent in laws in Europe. Organizations in America are also calling on the U.S. Patent Office to review their patent laws and regulations. Ethics and definitions must need to be redefined to meet the new emerging science, they say.

The creation of life in the lab is becoming speculative. The sacrosanctity of life is devolving into a commodities market for investors to place bets on which lifeforms can make the most money in the marketplace. Christoph Then of Testbiotech charges that the process has gone beyond simple research and broken the boundaries into the actual exploitation of nature and life.

They are particularly worried about the emerging trend to “commercialize the human body” and that some firms that have actively sought to obtain patents on entire living creatures.

Testbiotech and “No Patents on Life!” are also petitioning the support for a collaborative effort with an international working group to forward the cause of “no patents on seeds” to protect farms and farm produce. That initiative seeks to prohibit direct patents on plants and animals.


Patents on chimpanzees, sperm cells and human genes

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