Man-beast: patent pending

Man-beast: patent pending

Man-beast: Patent pending

From satyrs to mermaids and centaurs to Minotaurs, storytellers have long fascinated their listeners with tales of man-beast creatures. Now new animals, custom-designed with genes of different species in forms not found in nature, are a reality. And the government decided last week to allow private enterprise to patent them.

In a decision that rekindled a bitter debate, the Commerce Department’s Patent and Trademark Office said it will begin issuing patent rights on new types of animal life, making the U.S. the first nation to do so. Pressure for patent protection had been building. University and industry researchers –who use gene-splicing techniques to enhance fast-growth and early-maturity traits in livestock–felt that billions of dollars in potential profits were at stake.

Even before the official federal blessing, scientists had grafted human-growth-hormone genes into pigs. One hybrid is a cross between a sheep and a goat. And a variety of animals have been reproduced exactly through embryo splitting–a shortcut for selective breeding that once took years. This process also can be patented now. Officials say 15 animal-patent applications have already been filed. They will be examined to determine how each animal was produced. “For an animal to be covered under patent statutes, it has to be somehow created by man,’ says Charles Van Horn, director of biotechnology for the Patent Office.

Though the decision excludes the patenting of genetic alterations in human beings, it provoked fresh outrage among theologians who say that any reshaping of the handiwork of evolution through the use of human genes is abominable. Three church groups warned that “those who would play God will be tempted as never before.’ A presidential bioethics panel in 1982 objected to “the hybridizing of human beings with other living things to create partially human creatures.’ Scientists may now cross that line in some instances with government approval.

Photo: Movie mutant: “The Fly’

COPYRIGHT 1987 All rights reserved.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group