Ownership and Identity

Getty Images In the half century since James D. Watson and Francis Crick pieced out the structure of DNA, research into the double helix has transformed knowledge of development, function, and disease. It has also become a commonplace truth that DNA (or RNA) is the unique sine qua non of any living organism. As such, it comprises a material identifier, a collection of base-pair sequences that provide an individual's signature, independent of the information that any one sequence may encode. Wh

Daniel Kevles
Jan 12, 2003
Getty Images

In the half century since James D. Watson and Francis Crick pieced out the structure of DNA, research into the double helix has transformed knowledge of development, function, and disease. It has also become a commonplace truth that DNA (or RNA) is the unique sine qua non of any living organism. As such, it comprises a material identifier, a collection of base-pair sequences that provide an individual's signature, independent of the information that any one sequence may encode. While most of the clinical payoffs remain in the future, the chemical specificity of DNA has already affected the world economy and Western society in particular, notably in biotechnology and human identification.

OWNING LIFE The recognition that the control of heredity and development resides in a molecule has greatly expanded the scope of intellectual property protection by allowing patents for living organisms. What is patentable in the United States reflects...

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