Carl Zimmer on "Who Owns Your Microbes"?

There was an interesting piece by Carl Zimmer in the New York Times a few days ago: Our Microbiomes, Ourselves –
In the piece Zimmer discusses the issue of who owns your microbiome. This can be considered an extension of the concept of “Who owns your cells?” such as has been discussed in the context of Rebecca Skloot’s HELA book.
My favorite line(s):

Monitoring the bacteria flushed into the sewer system of a town, for instance, might reveal a lot about the entire town’s health. But a regulation requiring permission from every resident of the town would stop the study dead in its tracks

Personally I think none of us own our microbes – since we get them from the world around us and likely share them with millions of others. It would be akin to saying we own genes found in all humans. But there very well may be some person specific alleles in microbes that could in a way be akin to person specific cell lines. Not sure.

Anyway – I think I am going to name all my microbes as a first step in protecting my rights to them …

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

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