Lately I have been considering trademarks and patents. I recently read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, wherein we are given the story of Henrietta and her family in parallel with their continued unforeseen and frequently overlooked contribution to science, the miracle HeLa.  If you've never heard of it, HeLa is an immortal cell line that survived the blunders of the early scientific learning curve, and has since allowed for the foundation of cell biology, genealogy, virology, and countless other fields. Today HeLa cells, which ceased to belong to their progenitor the minute they left her body, have been used to generate uncountable sums of money and spawned the futures of many brilliant scientists. My graduate school thesis, using live cell imaging to observe how cells divide in the presence and absence of cofilin, would not have been possible without Henrietta and HeLa. The topic alludes to the recent ongoing dispute with biological patents. We have benefited as a society from this open-sourced material; had the cells been patented, the spread of knowledge would likely have been much slower, and many techniques would not have been developed. This is a timely issue with the recent loss of Aaron Swartz. I look at our history of fighting to keep control over knowledge, to benefit financially wherever we can —we live in a capitalist nation after all. I remember learning as a kid in history class about monopolies and the fight against the big corporations, and yet here we are allowing exclusive rights to information. We are selling information to the highest bidder, be it biological or digital. We as humans want diversity, we want knowledge and we thrive with an open spread of information.  

 


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    I am a writer, blogger, crafter and scientist with degrees in biochemistry, molecular biology, chemistry, and philosophy. I currently work at a small, privately-owned biotech company specializing in vaccine development.  

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