Magazine article Newsweek

A Biotech Roadblock: Activists Turn to the Patent Office to Stop Chimeras

Magazine article Newsweek

A Biotech Roadblock: Activists Turn to the Patent Office to Stop Chimeras

Article excerpt

In greek myth, the chimera was a part lion, part goat, part dragon that terrorized the country of Lycia; in real life, it's an animal customized with genes from different species. But where the mythic Chimera got taken down by the warrior Bellerophon, the biotech version faces platoons of lawyers, bioethicists and biologists. Stuart Newman, a cell biologist at New York Medical College, has applied for a patent on ways to make human-animal chimeras. Newman doesn't want to do it. He just wants to make sure no one else does, either. And, with the help of anti-biotechnology activist Jeremy Rifkin, Newman is hoping to drum up a good controversy, too.

Chimeras are doable; a decade ago, biologists created a goat-sheep cross called a "geep." But no one has ever used human DNA as an ingredient. Newman and Rifkin want to keep it that way. Rifkin, head of the Foundation on Economic Trends, opposes human interference in evolution, and Newman decries the increasing commercialization of science. "We demonstrate that [chimeras are] scientifically feasible, usable by the medical community and viable," says Newman, "but down the road it could be a disaster for culture and civilization."

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that biologist Ananda Chakrabarty could patent microbes he bioengineered to clean up oil spills. Since then, scientists have patented genes, cell lines and genetically remodeled animals from mice to abalone. A human-animal chimera, as Newman and Rifkin point out in their application, could potentially be used to study tissue growth and organ transplantation, among other possibilities. …

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