The New You: A Special Biotechnology Report

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

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


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.

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly 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