Where New Genes Come From

Because they are conducive to genetic research, the “narrow” gene pools common to indigenous peoples, remote islanders, traditional religious communities, and other distinct populations are fast becoming a commodity (see “Iceland’s Blond Ambition“). The following chart shows where corporate gene hunters—globe-trotting scientists who collect skin and blood samples for research—have been focusing their efforts. While gene hunters are obliged to obtain informed consent from their donors, they are not required to tell them that tissue donation could result in patented products. And donors are rarely offered a cut of the profits.

Location Company or Institution Target Gene or Disease
Argentina Genset Central nervous system disorders
Brazil Axys Pharmaceuticals and Mount Sinai Hospital (Toronto) Asthma
Canada Mount Sinai Hospital et al. Obesity and diabetes
Chile Axys Asthma
China Genset Common diseases
China Axys and Mount Sinai Hospital Asthma
Finland Progenitor Schizophrenia
Gabon Pasteur Institute HIV
Iceland DeCode Genetics Diabetes; alcoholism
Israel Genset Cancer; bone and cardiovascular diseases; central nervous system disorders
Italy University of Milan Low HDL (so-called good cholesterol) gene
Micronesia Rockefeller University Obesity
Pakistan Columbia University Baldness
Papua New Guinea U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Patent on genetic material from a man infected with HTLV-1, an HIV-like virus (patent dropped in 1997)
Solomon Islands U.S. National Institutes of Health Patent application on genetic material from two Solomon Islanders with HTLV-1 (dropped in 1996)
Tibet Case Western Reserve University High-altitude gene
Tristan da Cunha Axys and Mount Sinai Hospital Asthma
United States (Mormon families in Utah) Myriad Genetics Breast cancer