Bulk Sequence Applications

Within the last decade there has been a trend towards attempts at patenting large groups of nucleic acid sequences from sequencing of EST libraries and genomes. There are “bulk sequence” claims over large portions of many genomes, including that of Arabidopsis. Since Arabidopsis was the first plant to have its genome sequenced, is a popular model organism, and there are extensive expressed sequence data (ESTs and cDNA sequences) available, examination of the patent landscape of Arabidopsis offers the opportunity to examine what may happen to other plant genomes.

Bulk sequence applications are important because they potentially cover genes involved in a very wide variety of processes in development, metabolism, and disease resistance. Hence it is a concern to examine the success of such patent applications in granting exclusionary rights to early applicants who can control what can be done with later research in these far-reaching areas.

The effects are not limited to those working on Arabidopsis. Arabidopsis is not a crop plant. If the economic gain to be had from patents on Arabidopsis genes was limited to royalties from Arabidopsis growers, there would be few patent applications pending on the genome of this plant. Most who work on it are using it as a model for important related species such as soybean and cotton. The claims in many of the bulk sequence applications described below would allow the rights-holders of patents on them to exclude all others from the use of genes not only in and from soybean and cotton, but many other leguminous food crops, fiber crops including trees such as Populus, fruit crops and ornamentals, and subsistence crops such as cassava and cowpea that are staples in the diets of millions of people.

Thus Arabidopsis offers a further dimension as a plant model: as an example of plant genome patenting.