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Now you can find our who owns your genes New Scientist Feb 28 98

A DATABASE unveiled at the AAAS could help to resolve heated debates about when sequences of DNA should or should not be patented. The idea of patenting genes has always been controversial. The debate gained impetus in the early 1990s, when some scientists started filing for patents on thousands of tiny gene fragments called expressed sequence tags (ESTs)-Aespite the fact that they had little idea about the function of the genes they were part of. Last year, the US Patent and Trademark Office ruled that ESTs are patentable, to a chorus of disapproval from molecular biologists who fear that such broad-ranging patents will hinder research (This Week, 22 February 1997, p 11). But debate has been hamstrung by the lack of hard information about the contents of patents, says Stephen McCormack, associate director of the newly formed Foundation for Genetic Medicine in Manassas, Virginia, an independent nonprofit organisation- The DNA Patents Database, compiled by McCormack and Robert Cook-Deegan of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC, now contains the full text of more than 8500 patents. lt is set up to provide the key biological information about each patent-which genes are included, the techniques used in their discovery and the precise extent of the claims made in each patent. The database can be examined through the Foundation for Genetic Medicine's Web site at In the coming months, McCormack alms to broaden its scope to include patents filed in countries other than the US. The database should be a key msource for patent lawyers and for policy analysts who want to investigate whether certain types of patents-such as those on ESTs-are hampering m-search. "The DNA Patent Database will really help elucidate these questions," says McCormack. He also expects funding bodies such as the US National Institutes of Health to make good use of the database. They will be able to work out exactly who is profiting from their investment in the basic research that underpins gene discovery. Peter Aldhous