This site is an archive of Diffractions Collective material from 2013 – 2023
For 2023 and beyond see

Geneconomics: Ethical considerations for the privatization of genes

Written in


Geneconomics: Ethical considerations for the privatization of genes
outline, presented by Casey Carr
25 May 2014, Unijazz – Prague
What is Geneconomics?
An applied interpretation of geneconomics may be the process or system by which genes and genetic-engineering are produced, sold, and bought.  Another possible definition may be using the genetic level to understand economics, in the efficient use of material resources by genes.  Genes are the fundamental blocks of heredity, comprised of different sugars, proteins, and nucleic acids.  Most are familiar with the common make-up of DNA bases into 4 types: Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, or Thymine.  In RNA, Thymine is replaced with Urycil (or vice versa, as it is now assumed that DNA evolved from RNA).  They are mostly responsible for protein production (<2% in human genome) and replication. If genes and DNA are the fundamental units used to create every living organism, geneconomics can also be visualized as representing genes as capital, which is essentially reinforced by the US patenting system to maintain monopolies of specific genes or gene-products by corporations.  Genes are inherited through a lot of work and energy by the organism, referring to sexual reproduction, meaning they take effort to replicate.  Whereas, many bacteria and single-celled organisms replicate genes with less variability by asexual reproduction.  The difference between these “two market investment models” is well-illustrated with George C. Williams’ Lottery ticket analogy.  For today’s discussion, I’d like to focus on the impact of seeing genes through an economic perspective, and how this should shape our perspective of ethics to a new reciprocal, universal view of living organisms.  Below is a small diagram of how DNA is replicated using the four bases.
DNA chemical structure Chromosomal_Recombination
Alduous Huxley’s Brave New World’s imposed caste system and the ability of characters to go to the “genetic supermarket” to pickup some genes, the idea of geneconomics is not far behind. (Gavaghan 2007)
Now taking this model of gene replication to its new capacity, can we program the digital world, computers, etc., by fundamental 4 different coded bases to create new structures using these polymers polymers?  With the advent of XNA, synthetic DNA (which thus far contains no visible biological trait when duplicated), could we begin to create a ‘biotic’ world outside the constraints of what we call ‘life’.  Complexity theory has made new progress even in architecture and art.
First Phase, Genetic-counseling (see CARR)
The first-phase of ethics regarding genetics started in the 1970s with Paul Berg’s Recombinant monkey virus and Boyer & Cohen’s genetically engineered E. Coli.  First genome sequencing of RNA took place in the 1976 (Fiers).
– Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA (1975), Paul Berg
– the Conference concluded with the principle that the government should be responsible for oversight of any future of recombinant DNA, thus genetic engineering
– 1973, Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen created the first transgenic organism by inserting antibiotic resistance genes into the plasmid of an E. coli bacterium.
– With the discovery health-threatening mutations to gene and mapping the human genome, gene ethics quickly entered the public domain.
– “likely due to strong public interest, as cancer is a common disease, and to medical advances leading to early detection” (Bennett, Hampel, Mandell, & Marks 2003, p. 1277) as “common cancers such as breast and colon cancer were identified, the genetic counseling field grew rapidly”
– BRCA1/2, Angelina Effect
– “genetic counselors’ work involves all stages of the life cycle, from preconception counseling to prenatal diagnosis, the diagnosis of newborns or pediatric genetic disorders, and the diagnosis of elderly individuals with inherited predisposition to diseases such as cancer, presenile dementia, psychiatric disorders, and heart disease” (Bennett, Hampel, Mandell, & Marks 2003, p. 1274)
Who owns the Human genome?
Second Phase, Genetic-engineering (see KUIK)

Genetic Engineering: The science or activity of changing the genetic structure of an animal, plant or other organism in order to make it stronger or more suitable for a particular purpose.

Collins COBUILD English Dictionary (1995 edn.)
-Monsanto, Agent Orange, Pesticide-resistant corn, pest-resistent GMO, sterile
-Genetic-modification is the common term for the process of altering genes to make a product more marketable.  Compare with Genetic-engineering.  Artificial selection, GE began with the Silesian friar, Gregor Mendel’s work cross pea plants.  GM has a long unconscious history, and should not be confused with GE.
from Mendel → Mandelbrot?, transcription → translation
-Somatic vs. Germline

Privatization, and individualization
– “What if you could put a few bacterial cells into a USB stick, plug it into your laptop, and get back a complete DNA sequence in a matter of minutes?” (Garling, 2012)
– “According to Clive Brown, Oxford’s chief technology officer, the process is kind of like a game of Hungry Hippo. After a researcher inserts a DNA sample, each nanopore gobbles up it up as fast as they can, independent of the nanopore next door. Brown says that today, each nanopore is sending about 33,000 measurements per second. The first version of MinION will have a single ASIC chip with 512 circuits and 512 nanopores, but he says they will likely add a second chip to the next iteration.” (Garling 2012)
Myriad’s business model vs. Monsanto
Legal battles
– “Naturally occurring DNA sequences, even when isolated from the body, cannot be patented, but artificially created DNA is patent eligible because it is not naturally occurring.” It has been accepted that “all testing techniques can detect all mutations and that the presence of a patent deters researchers from developing new and perhaps better testing methods and therapeutics” (p.1278) which provides “little incentive to offer competitive pricing”… 13 June 2013
– With this law in place, what if Myriad develops XNA able to treat BRCA1/2 mutations, and secretly implants it within patients who have tested positive.  Would this XNA strand pass on to children?  If children were born after the operation.  Can a person with XNA be allowed to reproduce? (20 March 2012) (13 June 2013) (May 2013)
decoding DNA
Principles of Life:
1. Homeostasis, 2. Organization, 3. Metabolism, 4. Growth, 5. Adaptation, 6. Response to Stimuli, 7. Reproduction
Artificial Life?
For the advancement of XNA, Leconte et al (2008)  tested the viability of 60 candidate bases, yielding potentially 3600 base pairs, whereas DNA is produced in 4 bases in 3-letter combinations, giving 64 possible codons (43).  ANA, FANA, TNA, LNA, CeNA, HNA
Using DNA to code:
“Companies are offering hard drives these days with capacities measured in terabytes. That’s amazing when you think about where we were just a few years ago, but hard drives have nothing on the data storage capacity of DNA. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have managed to encode an entire book in DNA to prove that information can be stored and recovered at high density using the molecule” (Whitwam 2012)
red queen hypothesis

Red Queen Hypothesis, Is there an escape from our own extinction?
Ethics for the future, Categorical Imperative (Kant)?
– Consequentialism
– Applied Bioethics: 1) Autonomy, 2) Nonmaleficence, 3) Beneficence, 4) Justice
Knoppers & Chadwick (2005) principles
– Most geneticists today can agree on an ethical approach that favors “reciprocity, mutuality, solidarity, citizenry, and universality” (Knoppers & Chadwick 2005).
Harry Adams (2004) principles (ask KUIK, if present)
-1) GMs which carry too high of a risk to the patient(s) and/or its offspring in any number of generations, should be totally prohibited (with exceptions in rare cases where no alternative is present) – Almost all current GM’s belong to this group, as there is an insufficient knowledge/experience with multi-generational effects of GM. (2) Those GMs which could contribute to a caste system by providing an unfair advantage to the wealthy, should be either made available to all, or banned totally – such as enhancement of memory etc.. (3) GMs that bear no potential to create a caste system, neither bear any hazard towards future generation, such as minor cosmetic improvement could be allowed for market distribution (although requirements for a GM to enter this category should be very strict). (4) Finally GMs which would prevent deadly diseases should be mandatory and free of charge
Should we make a differentiation between Human, Animal, and Plant genetics?
Using DNA in architecture, complexity theory
Cannabis Market?

References and Further Reading:
Adams, H. (2004). A Human Germline Modification Scale. Journal Of Law, Medicine &     Ethics,     32(1), 164-173.
Bazlee, A. A. (2014, March 25). GENEthics and GENEconomics. Scribd. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from
Bennett, R. L., Hampel, H. L., Mandell, J. B., & Marks, J. H. (2003). Genetic counselors: translating genomic science into clinical practice.Journal of Clinical Investigation, 112(9), 1274-1279.
Crocchiolo, P. (2010). The touch of life. Aurora, Colo.: Davies Group, Publishers.
Garling, C. (2012, March 12). Can You Really Sequence DNA With a USB Thumb Drive? | Enterprise | WIRED. Retrieved April 13, 2014, from
Gavaghan, C. (2007). Defending the genetic supermarket the law and ethics of selecting the next generation. London: Routledge-Cavendish.
Klitzman, R. (2013, May 16). Angelina Jolie, Doctors, Patenting Genes, and You. Psychology Today. Retrieved May 3, 2014, from
Knoppers, B. M., & Chadwick, R. (2005). Science And Society: Human Genetic Research: Emerging Trends In Ethics. Nature Reviews Genetics, 6(1), 75-79.
Leconte, A.M., Hwang, G.T., Matsuda, S., Capek, P., Hari, Y. and Romesberg, F.E. (2008) Discovery, characterization, and optimization of an unnatural base pair for expansion of the genetic alphabet. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 130, 2336–2343
McKay CP (2004) What Is Life—and How Do We Search for It in Other Worlds? PLoS Biol 2(9): e302. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020302
Mittal, A., & Rosset, P. (n.d.). Genetic Engineering and the Privatization of Seeds.Dollars and Sense: Real World Economics. Retrieved April 13, 2014, from
Phoenix, W. (2014, May 9). Synthetic Life Forms Created In The Lab. American News. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from
Sulik, G. (2013, April 23). Patients, Patents, and Profits in a Genomic Age. Psychology Today. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from
Whitwam, R. (2012, August 19). Researchers encode entire ebook in DNA strands | News | Geekcom. Retrieved February 3, 2014, from

Diffract this //