News FocusHuman Genome 10th Anniversary

The Human Genome (Patent) Project

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Science  04 Feb 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6017, pp. 530-531
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6017.530

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Scientists have come to realize that any one gene accounts for only a small risk for most diseases and that many "common" diseases like diabetes are the result of many distinct DNA variations. Many diagnostic companies have therefore shifted focus and offer so-called multiplex tests, which can scan dozens of genes and study the molecular products of each. Patents last up to 2 decades, however, so they cannot evolve as quickly as genetics has. In fact, one-fifth of human genes—especially potential moneymakers associated with diseases—are covered by patents, so a commercial outfit developing a diagnostic test faces quite a "patent thicket." But diagnostics is only the most obvious area in which critics say gene patents and gene science have become misaligned. Disputes over the proper way to patent genes—especially how many patents to grant and how broad to make them—have affected most areas of biotechnology.

This News story and another on genomic medicine (p. 526) launch a series of features this month commemorating the 10th anniversary of Science's and Nature's publications of the human genome, which are gathered here.

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