Just one company owns half the patents on genes from deep-sea organisms, the Independent reports. It adds that these marine genes could have applications in a range of fields, including medicine, food, and fuel, but that a new analysis has found the potential wealth is concentrated in a few companies and countries.
Researchers led by Stockholm University's Henrik Österblom uncovered a total of 12,998 genetic sequences from 862 marine species associated with patents with international protection. As they report in Science Advances this week, they found that genes from a range of species, including the manta ray and the sperm whale, have been patented.
Österblom and his colleagues also report that 221 companies account for 84 percent of the patents and that one transnational corporation, the chemical manufacturer BASF, registered 47 percent of all the patents. Most patents were filed by entities in Germany, the US, and Japan.
BASF tells the Independent that many of the gene patents it filed covered genes that are in publicly available databases, but that publicly known genes cannot be patented and that it filed those patents for "special self-developed use-cases."
The Independent also notes that while the Nagoya Protocol calls for the sharing of the Earth's genetic resources, it doesn't extend to regions beyond national jurisdictions and that negotiations on a new treaty are to take place in the fall.