The New You: A Special Biotechnology Report

As corporations buy up stock in the human body, they also determine our future.


In 1972, when former General Electric microbiologist Ananda Chakrabarty tried to patent a microbe that could clean up oil spills, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied his request. Life, the PTO told him, could not be patented.

But Chakrabarty appealed the decision, and in 1980, the Supreme Court agreed with him. “The relevant distinction [is] not between living and inanimate things,” wrote Chief Justice Warren Burger, but that microbes such as the one Chakrabarty identified are “human-made inventions.”

In making a distinction between life that stems from a natural process and life that results from a bioengineered one, the court paved the way for a heady gold rush to patent the human genome. More and more frequently, we hear of some scientist who has unlocked the delicate coding behind our most dreaded fears (breast cancer) or narcissistic obsessions (baldness).

Who owns what? Turn the page and you’ll see the anatomy of this corporate-funded new science. Produced with the reporting help of Hope Shand, research director of the pioneering biotech watchdog group Rural Advancement Foundation International, it shows just how much of the market has already been claimed by a handful of companies, most of them bankrolled by multinational pharmaceutical giants.

Biotech professionals defend patents as the only way to recoup research costs. But technology critic Jeremy Rifkin argues that such market-driven logic will only lead to a new, commercial eugenics, undoubtedly in the direction of our genetically altered centerfold. In an essay adapted from his new book, The Biotech Century, Rifkin looks beyond biotech’s beneficent promises and exposes where genetic tinkering—propelled by our own desires—is really taking us.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate