I learned something today

July 26, 2017

Posted: December 17, 2016, 3:36pm

I learned something today.

I learned that the sharing of plant, animal, and other biological material between various countries of the world is governed by something called the Nagoya Protocol. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) designed this protocol for one purpose:  the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.

This is addressing an age old problem of scientific discovery: empires, entrepreneurs, and all-around industrious people try to harbor the benefits of new discovery for profit. Can we blame them? Follow the money. It becomes an issue of patent laws and disputing claims of who was first and who gets paid.

But settling these disputes becomes more and more complicated in the modern age: can you patent the information found in a plant genome?

As recently as last month, researchers were able to create an artificial pathway that more efficiently breaks down CO2 than plants. Wow! What a great advance.

These advances are usually aided by studying plants from around the world (some of which are undoubtedly more efficient than others, depending on climate/environmental conditions in the area a plant is found). Advanced scientific research now allows for the studying of all genetic information encoded in a plant, as well as the manufacturing of new information at a very cheap cost.

Here’s a telling quote from the article: ‘Let’s be perfectly clear – such resources are only valuable because of the information they encode.’

It used to be that the regulatory powers that be could regulate the transfer of biological and natural material in order to control patentable information and keep a close eye on assets. But now, with the advent of artificial gene editing and manufacturing (both here now and coming soon in the future) all that is necessary is the transfer of information – not actual material.

If you’re looking for me to end this article with an opinion, well… I don’t really have one yet. It seems odd to make a natural, genetic information patentable or controlled by a regulatory committee, but I’m not too sure why or why not. Gene editing will open up a whole new field of ethics, and well, it probably should! I do hope that researchers, governments, and industry will all continue to collaborate on tough issues that humans face in medicine, but I also understand that this research is fueled by money, which must be regulated somehow. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this industry moving forward. Welcome to the future.

Published on July 26th, 2017

Last updated on August 10th, 2017