One-fifth of human genes are patented, study reveals

This stylistic schematic diagram shows a gene in relation to the double helix structure of DNA and to a chromosome (right). Introns are regions often found in eukaryote genes which are removed in the splicing process: only the exons encode the protein. This diagram labels a region of only 40 or so bases as a gene. In reality many genes are much larger.“A new study shows that 20 percent of human genes have been patented in the United States, primarily by private firms and universities.

“The study, which is reported this week in the journal Science, is the first time that a detailed map has been created to match patents to specific physical locations on the human genome.

“Researchers can patent genes because they are potentially valuable research tools, useful in diagnostic tests or to discover and produce new drugs.

“‘It might come as a surprise to many people that in the U.S. patent system human DNA is treated like other natural chemical products,’ said Fiona Murray, a business and science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and a co-author of the study.

“‘An isolated DNA sequence can be patented in the same manner that a new medicine, purified from a plant, could be patented if an inventor identifies a [new] application.'”

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