The New Biology
Edited by Matthew Rimmer and Alison McLennan
Chapter 8: Regulating Gene Regulation: Patenting Small RNAs
Adam Bostanci, Jane Calvert and Pierre-Benoit Joly Much has been written on the revolution in the life sciences that has taken place over the last 20 years. Perhaps the most important development has been an increasing recognition of complexity in biology, which has led to the emergence of new ﬁelds of research such as systems biology and epigenetics. In this chapter, we focus on one recent conceptual shift in particular: the shift away from gene-centric understandings of biological processes. This shift has been fed by – and has reinforced interest in – research on small RNAs, thanks to the recognition of the role of these molecules in many crucial biological processes. Small RNAs and the phenomenon of RNA interference (RNAi) have been seen as therapeutically and commercially promising, to the extent that some prominent commentators have spoken about a patenting ‘gold rush’ in this area.1 In the ﬁrst section of the chapter, we characterise the patent system in general terms and highlight some recent developments with respect to inventions in the life sciences. We then give some background to the discovery that opened up the ﬁeld of RNA interference and was eventually rewarded with the Nobel Prize to Andrew Fire and Craig Mello in 2006. We go on to brieﬂy describe the mechanism of RNA interference, and show that it is now thought of as part of a more general and only partially understood RNA silencing system. This has implications for how we view some of the most important patents related...
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