Cynthia – Intellectual Property in a synthetic cell

  In May 2010 Craig Venter’s team produced the first synthetic cell - a bacteria with a wholly synthesised genome, designated Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 but informally called ‘Cynthia’
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/science.1190719.
 

Intellectual Property Synthetic Cell CynthiaIntellectual Property Synthetic Cell Cynthia This major advance was rightly hailed a milestone in cell biology and genetic engineering.  I eagerly await the first report that someone has solved the coded puzzle left  by Craig Venter’s team within Cynthia’s DNA - it contains four watermark sequences setting out (i) the code they used (alphabet, numbers and punctuation); (ii) a website address to report the cracking of this code; (iii) the scientists’ names; and (iv) three philosophical quotations.
 
Cynthia has caused IP interest as well as scientific excitement.  The new bacterium has revived two debates: whether there is copyright and design rights in long chain molecules (DNA/RNA nucleotides or other macromolecules with a highly variable sequence of constituent monomers), and the extent to which patents might restrict academic progress and advance of knowledge.  In Cynthia, the newly devised watermarks distinguish it from the older questions of copyright and naturally occurring DNA sequences and this makes arguments for the existence of rights in these watermarked sequences stronger.  I do not think there is a real concern that Cynthia patents will restrict the advance of knowledge.  The actual patents arising from Cynthia need to be considered before any conclusions are possible.   In the light of these patents’ specifications possible restrictions will become clearer.  It can then be seen if there are any restrictions on research that are not  protected as permitted under exceptions to patent infringement for the activities of experimental scientists.  
 


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