Cash for Genes?

Cash for genes, anyone? We’ve all got them (genes, that is) and someone somewhere may be using them to generate extra funds. How? You ask. How dare they! You cry  – or maybe not?

The Polymerase Chain Reaction  (or PCR for short) has been around for sometime. Awarded the Nobel Prize in 1993, Mullis and Smith stood on the shoulders of some very big scientific giants to offer the world of molecular biology a tool that could create unlimited copies of any stretch of DNA. This amplification meant that a number of techniques were now achievable for laboratories both big and small.

One CashforGenes_2study that benefited enormously from this reaction was the Human Genome Project. Reliant on a sequencing technology developed by Fred Sanger in the 70’s, institutes in the UK and US collaborated to produce a database of every single one of the sequence of 3.2 billion Dinky Amigos that make up our genome. It took several years and used information from 20 anonymous individuals. A small sample by today’s standards.

Different sequencing techniques have been subsequently developed and  several companies can now sequence the genome in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost of the original project. This makes businesses viable and several can now offer you analysis of your own genome. For a price. Admittedly nothing like the multi-billion dollar cost of the first one. But you are still paying.

However some of these companies are subsequently selling your genetic information to research companies – thus earning (at least) twice on the same sample. Samples are aggregated (and so should, in theory, be anonymous) and you must consent. But should they be paying you?

Some of these companies have samples numbering in the millions. Many more than a typical research institute. Does it then make sense to use that data?  Does the research value trump any personal claim you have over the DNA in your own genome? Can you even claim your own DNA?

PCR was a research tool before it was commercialised.  Your genetic data is already following suit. Should you have a cut of that?