Azara Blog: John Sulston criticises synthetic genome patents

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Date published: 2010/05/27

The BBC says:

A top UK scientist who helped sequence the human genome has said efforts to patent the first synthetic life form would give its creator a monopoly on a range of genetic engineering.

Professor John Sulston said it would inhibit important research.

US-based Dr Craig Venter led the artificial life form research, details of which were published last week.

Prof Sulston and Dr Venter clashed over intellectual property when they raced to sequence the genome in 2000.

Craig Venter led a private sector effort which was to have seen charges for access to the information. John Sulston was part of a government and charity-backed effort to make the genome freely available to all scientists.

"The confrontation 10 years ago was about data release," Professor Sulston said.

"We said that this was the human genome and it should be in the public domain. And I'm extremely glad we managed to pull this out of the bag."

Now the old rivals are at odds again over Dr Venter's efforts to apply for patents on the artificially created organism, nicknamed Synthia. The team outlined the remarkable advance last week in the prestigious journal Science.

But Professor Sulston, who is based at the University of Manchester, said patenting would be "extremely damaging".

"I've read through some of these patents and the claims are very, very broad indeed," Professor Sulston told BBC News.

"I hope very much these patents won't be accepted because they would bring genetic engineering under the control of the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI). They would have a monopoly on a whole range of techniques."

The problem is not so much with Craig Venter as with the entire world (in particular US) patent system. Far too broad patents are allowed in all areas of technology, and they are indeed "extremely damaging". The current patent system often prevents innovation more than it protects it.

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