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The free genetic movement or the legality of patenting a GMO

Just as the telecommunications industry lobbied to privatize the electromagnetic spectrum, the biotechnology industry seeks to do the same with the most basic components of nature – the genes that underlie all life . The argument is that genes are information, and if a biotechnologist combines that information to create new organisms, then they should be capable of being registered or patented in some way.

The first case of an attempt to patent an organism took place in 1979, when the microbiologist Ananda Mohan Chakrabarty wanted to obtain a patent for a genetically engineered microorganism to eliminate oil spilled into the sea. The United States Supreme Court approved the application, thus becoming the first case of a patent on a genetically modified organism (GMO). That is, a living being was owned by a person or company and this could be exclusively commercially exploited.

Just a few months after that ruling, Genentech , the leading biotech company, went public with an offering of one million shares at $ 35 a share. In a few hours, one of the largest stock market rises in history took place.

Since that cited case, it is legally possible to patent any genetic code and also human cell lines, tissues and organs, even genetically modified human embryos. However, not everyone agreed with this form of commercial exploitation. The biggest opponent was the Foundation on Economic Trends (FOET).

After spending decades combating this legislative drift in patent offices, courts and legislative chambers, in 2002 the FOET brought together 250 organizations from 50 countries at the World Social Forum in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre to support a genetic commons , that is, the philosophy that genes cannot be privatized and must be resources that do not belong to anyone (or belong to all of us).

The commons (from English, commons ) is made up of the things that we inherit and create together and that we hope to pass on to future generations. And those who defend the genetic commons understand that the code of life falls into this category.

In the field of agriculture, another staunch opponent of patents stands out: Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), an NGO that fights to conserve the planet’s plant genetic resources. In fact, they are the ones behind the construction of the underground seed store on a small island in the Svalbard archipelago: they call it the vault of the end of the world and it is designed to conserve biodiversity in the event of a catastrophe.

Despite the fact that it is becoming cheaper and more accessible to participate in the biotechnology industry, and that there are more incentives than ever to patent a GMO, these and other organizations are winning small battles. An example of this took place in 2013, when a court unanimously ruled that genes related to breast cancer could not be patented by the company Myriad Genetics .

They are timid advances towards the genetic commons that are powerfully reminiscent of attempts to remove software from copyright and opt for copyleft , leading to open commons such as Wikipedia or Linux .

All in all, the battle continues to be unequal: the benefits of privatizing GMOs have led to even the bioeconomy (a term coined by the Mexican Juan Enríquez Cabot and his founding partner of the Life Science Project, Rodrigo Martínez): such a powerful force It provides a quarter of all America’s wealth.

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