The Genealogy of a Gene

The Genealogy of a Gene: Patents, HIV/AIDS, and Race

Myles W. Jackson
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Genealogy of a Gene
    Book Description:

    InThe Genealogy of a Gene, Myles Jackson uses the story of the CCR5 gene to investigate the interrelationships among science, technology, and society. Mapping the varied "genealogy" of CCR5 -- intellectual property, natural selection, Big and Small Pharma, human diversity studies, personalized medicine, ancestry studies, and race and genomics -- Jackson links a myriad of diverse topics. The history of CCR5 from the 1990s to the present offers a vivid illustration of how intellectual property law has changed the conduct and content of scientific knowledge, and the social, political, and ethical implications of such a transformation. The CCR5 gene began as a small sequence of DNA, became a patented product of a corporation, and then, when it was found to be an AIDS virus co-receptor with a key role in the immune system, it became part of the biomedical research world -- and a potential moneymaker for the pharmaceutical industry. When it was further discovered that a mutation of the gene found in certain populations conferred near-immunity to the AIDS virus, questions about race and genetics arose. Jackson describes these developments in the context of larger issues, including the rise of "biocapitalism," the patentability of products of nature, the difference between U.S. and European patenting approaches, and the relevance of race and ethnicity to medical research.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32719-0
    Subjects: Health Sciences
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. A Note to the Reader (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 The Story of the CCR5 Gene (pp. 1-24)

    On a steamy July day in Washington, D.C., in 1992, the scientist-entrepreneur J. Craig Venter left the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to accept an offer from Wallace Steinberg, chair of the Healthcare Investment Corporation of New Jersey, the largest venture capitalist healthcare fund at the time, to run a nonprofit research center, The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR). TIGR was to have a budget of $70 million over a ten-year period (the actual total amount eventually increased to $85 million) to search the human genome for gene sequences without meddling from the government.¹ Steinberg placed a substantial bet on...

  6. 2 The CCR5 Patent(s) (pp. 25-38)

    Although gene patents had been awarded for nearly a decade before its existence, the Human Genome Project (HGP) (1990 to 2003) brought human genes and intellectual property issues to the fore. An international collaboration that was started and led by the United States, the HGP had an ambitious goal—to sequence the entire human genome, which is made up of 3 billion base pairs of DNA.¹ Planning started in 1984 with the work of Charles DeLisi, a physicist and director of the Office Health and Environment at the Department of Energy, and Robert Sinsheimer, a Caltech molecular biologist and chancellor...

  7. 3 Gene Patenting and the Product-of-Nature Doctrine (pp. 39-60)

    The CCR5 patent has become emblematic of the ways that intellectual property law has changed the conduct and content of scientific knowledge and the social, political, and ethical implications of such a metamorphosis. The resolution of these issues signaled the willingness of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to assist the biotech sector. This chapter and the next two continue to trace theCCR5gene’s intellectual property lineage. As a historian, I am wary of teleological histories. The astute reader will quickly identify a tension, particularly evident in this and the next chapter, between the teleology of gene patenting as...

  8. 4 The CCR5 Patent and Intellectual Property Law (pp. 61-88)

    The previous chapter analyzes the patentability of natural products, which is relevant to all gene patents. The lack of legal clarity described in that chapter is also the theme of this one. The CCR5 patent is particularly fascinating because it also raises a number of concerns with other aspects of intellectual property law. Using the CCR5 patent as a guide, this chapter analyzes how various legal precedents based on chemistry have proven to be inappropriate. Gene patents are controversial not simply because of their eligibility for intellectual property protection. This patent is particularly interesting because it occurred at a time...

  9. 5 The European Response to the CCR5 Patent (pp. 89-102)

    Thus far I have told the American story of the CCR5 patent. It possesses a European lineage, as well. In chapter 2, it was noted that the Belgian company Euroscreen is the licensing agent for the CCR5 patent portfolio. Patent holders generally apply for patents in (at least) the three major markets—the United States, Europe, and Japan. Euroscreen filed its two European patents on February 28, 1997, both with priority dates of March 1, 1996. The first patent (EP 0883687) was granted for the CCR5 receptor, derivatives thereof, and their uses and had a European Patent Bulletin publication date...

  10. 6 CCR5 and HIV/AIDS Diagnostics and Therapeutics (pp. 103-120)

    In the last years of the twentieth century, the CCR5 gene and its protein product became the objects of state-of-the-art work on diagnostics and drug treatment. The CCR5 patent’s lineage is now the subject of biomedical research on chemokine receptors and is entangled in the complex political, social, and biomedical lineages of HIV/AIDS—with big pharma playing the lead role in the story. The gene’s genealogy has been humanized and inextricably linked to the lives of the tens of millions infected. After this chapter examines these issues, it returns to intellectual property themes. HIV/AIDS diagnostic tests and medications have been...

  11. 7 Race, Place, and Pathogens (pp. 121-142)

    TheCCR5-Δ32allele provides some of the most fascinating stories of theCCR5gene. It has become a focal point in the debate about allele frequencies and natural selection. Could those who are immune to AIDS have ancestors who were immune to the bubonic plague, smallpox, or staphylococcus infection? How can historians collaborate with population geneticists and demographers to provide a richer history of medicine and biology and a clearer picture of the forces of natural selection? A history of theCCR5-Δ32allele is informative because it typifies how molecular biologists, population geneticists, biomedical researchers, and evolutionary biologists study alleles...

  12. 8 Race, Difference, and Genes (pp. 143-174)

    After having his DNA tested in 2008, Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard University scholar and director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute [now the Hutchins Center] for African and African American Research, was told that he was approximately half Irish, which means that about 50% of the genetic markers tested descended from Irish stock. Apparently he shares ten of eleven DNA matches with the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages, a fourth-century Irish warlord. Ironically, he is related to the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police officer who arrested him for disorderly conduct after a neighbor reported that two men had broken...

  13. Epilogue: The End of an Error? (pp. 175-188)

    On a cool, cloudy morning in early February 2010, I journeyed to lower Manhattan, the site of the Southern District Court of New York. The court guards told me that it was an atypically busy day. I stood on line as scores of people went through the security checkpoint and headed for courtroom 18C. By the time I arrived at the courtroom, slightly before 10 a.m., it was packed with reporters, scientists, biotech representatives, and lawyers. I wondered, “What in the world am I, a historian (albeit of science), doing here?” Everyone in the courtroom was waiting for Judge Robert...

  14. List of Abbreviations (pp. 189-192)
  15. Notes (pp. 193-278)
  16. Science Glossary (pp. 279-284)
  17. Bibliography (pp. 285-326)
  18. Index (pp. 327-336)


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