In 2013, the U.S. Patent Office sent a memo to its patent examiners instructing them to cease and desist examining all patent claims related to naturally occurring human DNA sequences. This was huge and historical news—our genes were free! But what led to that point? How is it that I, and likely many others, didn’t know or didn’t reflect on the fact that prior to that ruling, 4,300 of our approximately 25,000 genes were covered by patents? And that those patents were thwarting important research and increasing human suffering?
In The Genome Defense: Inside the Epic Legal Battle to Determine Who Owns Your DNA, author Jorge Contreras tells the riveting story behind the case Association for Molecular Biology vs. Myriad Genetics, with its powerhouse cast of contributors, its years-long process and its central question: Are human genes patentable? Contreras researched well; over 100 lawyers, judges, patients and scientists were interviewed, and he successfully unfolds the story of the incredible people who took moral issue with gene patenting and challenged it with fierce tenacity.
This book made me think more deeply than just about the science and the process of law, although those elements were fascinating and readable and accessible. It also reminded me that we’ve misplaced our humanity, and how can that be when we share 99.5 percent of our DNA with all other mortals? The Genome Defense is remarkable nonfiction, my favorite of last year. It received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, and was named one of the “11 New Works of Nonfiction to Read This Season” by the New York Times Book Review. I wholeheartedly recommend it!
Rachael Johnson is a bookseller at Valley Bookseller. Read more at valleybookseller.com.