The common cold, which is caused by over 200 virus strains, has afflicted people for centuries. But thanks to years of research and genetic manipulation, Coldsanto™ has been able to develop a new aggressive strain of the cold virus, which has essentially wiped out all other strains and has become the common cold virus to have this season. On Monday, Coldsanto™ was proud to announce its newest product, The Common Cold™. “Our scientists and researchers worked really hard to bring this product to market, seeing as evolution had only done 99.9999% of the work for us” said Coldsanto™ spokesman Gregory Nikolaus.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that in the United States alone, adults catch 2-3 colds each year and children suffer from between 6-8 colds. When one considers the entire population of the world (about 7 billion people), over 20 billion colds are contracted annually. Based on these values, investors of Coldsanto™ were thrilled to announce an estimated annual increase in company revenue of over two trillion dollars. “To put that into perspective, if Coldsanto™ were its own country, it would rival the economies of India, Canada, Australia and Spain” said Nikolaus, regarding the enormous profit potential of The Common Cold™ virus.
“We’ll be rolling out a new Frequent Phlegm-ers™ program, which will really help reduce the cost to those who regularly contract the virus. With plans starting at $99.99 a year, hosts of The Common Cold™ virus will be able to curtail the expense of repeated exposure,” explained Nikolaus, in response to questions about the ethics of charging people extraordinary rates for the natural consequences of living in biological conditions.
Coldsanto™ also announced the massive expansion of its offices to include locations in local pre-schools, hospitals and airports across the country. “We’re really trying to make payment as conveniently close as possible for our valued clientele. We really don’t like being the bad guy and being forced into litigation, but don’t get me wrong we will” said Nikolaus.
When asked what’s next on the agenda for their development team, an anonymous representative responded, “Well, we’ve noticed a lot of people share 99.9% of their DNA sequence, so we’re looking into the potential of that market.”
While the above “Coldsanto” piece is purely fiction, it does not deviate far from the current reality of biological patenting in the United States.
Just last year, the Supreme Court ruled in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics 2013, a case that was brought by scientists and doctors against a biotechnology company that had patented genes (BRCA1 and BRACA2, two genes that highly correlate with some hereditary forms of breast and ovarian cancers). Justice Clarence Thomas, in his delivery of the opinion of the court, said “we hold that a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated, but that cDNA is patent eligible because it is not naturally occurring.”
The process of biological patenting remains in its infancy, and is constantly being accelerated by the major biomedical advances of the 21st century. The heavy, but inalienable, burden of ensuring the ethical use of scientific advances lies with scientists, doctors and politicians alike. As renowned botanist-turned-bioethicist Arthur Galston once said, “Nothing that you do in science is guaranteed to result in benefits for mankind. Any discovery, I believe, is morally neutral and it can be turned either to constructive ends or destructive ends. That’s not the fault of science.”