First Ever Synthetic Organism Patent?

Wired is reporting that the Venter Institute has applied for a patent on the first fully synthetic organism (i.e., they synthesized the genome in the lab … I am sure that the organism had to be “booted” up in some way using a living organism).

Wired reports:

Scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute have applied for a U.S. patent on a minimal bacterial genome that they built themselves. According to the patent application, it’s “a minimal set of protein-coding genes which provides the information required for replication of a free-living organism in a rich bacterial culture medium.”

What do people think? I for one find the patent system completely incomprehensible. I think most biotech. related patents recently have been overly broad and/or represent something that should not be patented. But in this case, I do not know enough detail to really judge but it sounds like at least they did some real work here, which is more than the case for many genome sequence related patents from the past. Given that many places now have patents on mice and other organisms with single genetic knockouts, I do not see how the patent offices could reject a fully synthetic organism. This is not to say whether it is a good idea to synthesize an organism, but I think we are past that point anyway as clearly people will do it.

Kofi Annan urges restrictions onf biotechnology

Reuters is reporting on a speech by Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, in which he

warned of “catastrophic” results if recent advances in biotechnology, including gene manipulation and work with viruses, fell into the wrong hands.

He also said

“We lack an international system of safeguards to manage those risks,” he said. “Scientists may do their best to follow rules for responsible conduct of research. But efforts to harmonize these rules on a global level are outpaced by the galloping advance of science itself.”

He even suggests that the time is ripe for international governing bodies much like was done for nuclear energy in the 1950s. Is this a ploy to use the current animosity towards biotechnology in Europe to give the UN something new to do? Clearly, the US would not sign on to such things with the current administration (or probably any administration). But I certainly find it interesting that he is pushing this. I wonder if he is specifically worried about synthetic biology too or if this is just more concern for genetic engineering in general.