08 August 2009

Patenting the Barcode of Life

Talking of DNA, another brilliant use of it - and brilliantly obvious like all great ideas - is DNA Barcoding:

DNA barcoding is a new technique that uses a short DNA sequence from a standardized and agreed-upon position in the genome as a molecular diagnostic for species-level identification. DNA barcode sequences are very short relative to the entire genome and they can be obtained reasonably quickly and cheaply. The "Folmer region" at the 5' end of the cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 mitochondrial region (COI) is emerging as the standard barcode region for almost all groups of higher animals. This region is 648 nucleotide base pairs long in most groups and is flanked by regions of conserved sequences, making it relatively easy to isolate and analyze. A growing number of studies have shown that COI sequence variability is very low (generally less than 1-2%) and that the COI sequences of even closely related species differ by several percent, making it possible to identify species with high confidence.

However, readers of this will probably have guessed the fly in the ointment here: DNA barcoding is such a powerful idea that the parasites have moved in, and started trying to *patent* bits of the idea:

Systematic and phylogenetics, indeed much of evolutionary science, has long and great tradition of making resources and knowledge freely available to other resources. Instead of cash, all an author asks for is a citation or a credit. Therefore, it sounded incredulous to me that one researcher was trying to patent a DNA barcode snippet for a plant gene that was being worked on over several years by a large group of researchers.

It's a classic situation: not only are scientific techniques being patented, they are techniques that are well established and have been used for years - something that is explicitly excluded even in the most deranged patent regimes. And people say the system is working just fine... (Via Jonathan Eisen.)

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter and identi.ca.

No comments: