The artificial organism, a mere microbe, is the brainchild of researchers at the Rockville, Md.-based J. Craig Venter Institute. The organization is named for its founder and CEO, the geneticist who led the private sector race to map the human genome in the late 1990s. The researchers filed their patent claim on the artificial organism and on its genome.Sounds reasonable so far. Their goal was to design a bare bones organism, a "bacterium to have a “minimal genome”—the smallest set of genes any organism can live on. ".
Genetically modified life forms have been patented before; but this is the first patent claim for a creature whose genome might be created chemically from scratch, Mooney said.
Unfortunately, the group that is challenging the patent has this to say about it:
The idea of owning a species breaches “a societal boundary,” said Pat Mooney of the Ottawa, Canada-based ETC Group, which is asking the patent applicants to drop their claim. Creating and owning an organism, he added, means that “for the first time, God has competition.”That's just creepy.
However, here are some better reasons for challenging this:
By creating a man-made organism as a platform for other genes to be added at will, like software on a computer, “Venter’s enterprises are positioning themselves to be the Microsoft of synthetic biology,” ETC said in a statement.The organization claimed there could be drawbacks to allowing one company to monopolize this information. For instance, the microbe could be harnessed to build a virulent pathogen, ThomasAll quotes taken from here.
said. It could be a blow for “open source” biology – the idea that researchers should have free access to the fundamental tools and components of synthetic biology, the new and growing science of re-designing and re-building natural biological systems from the ground up for various purposes.
Hopefully (I know, this is totally unrealistic, but....) this will force us to redefine how patents are used in society. If Venter can successfully exclude competitors from using this technique for 20 years (standard patent law), it could significantly slow down advances in research, or at least limit it to only those who can pay for the right. Unfortunately, the priorities will most likely be set by whoever has the most money.