Aaron Klug on Gene Patenting
  Aaron Klug     Biography    
Recorded: 17 Jun 2005

I’m against it. When I was president of the Royal Society from ’95 to 2000 and Bruce Alberts and I wrote a paper in Nature and what I called—about the patenting genes. We thought they should belong to the wider world. In fact the policy of the Sanger Centre was to publish the sequence as soon as they had them. That’s been the correct policy. I was against it all. We had a battle with Celera. In the end Celera petered out as you know. They cheated. They used…

They used the—they claimed to have got the sequence when they published the paper separately. In fact they used the public sequence as the Sanger Centre’s—not the public, the project, that is the genome project sequence. They said they shredded all the data. They didn’t. They shredded the data in such a way that there was enough data left to give a complete coverage, so they knew where the sequences were.

Cheating is a strong word. But, so my colleagues, Eric Lander—I sent a paper into PNAS later for Sulston, Lander and Waterston who was involved analyzing what they had done. They left what’s called a tiling path. So they didn’t shred the data at random. They shredded it in a systematic way so they said they only used a small percent of the data which was the key percentage because it gave the links between the different pieces. They had twenty-five, twenty thousand components in their sequence but the public project—I called it the public project, the Human Genome Project actually looked for—broke up the chromosomes into large pieces and broke them up into smaller pieces so you knew the provenance. They knew where every piece of DNA you were sequencing came from so you could make a hierarchical ladder. That was essential at the time. Nowadays I think computing power’s so great you could almost certainly do it just breaking the whole genome into pieces and then using computer power to assemble it. Indeed, that’s what they claimed they were going to do. That’s called whole genome sequencing, WGS. But they didn’t do it. They were right in a sense that it could be done, but they didn’t do it.

I wrote a paper on this in my Royal Society address. I think I should give it to you. It is quite a piece of history.

The papers were published in 2001. I wrote this in December 2000. I will give it to you. It was an extract from a presidential—every year the president of the Royal Society has to give an address.

Aaron Klug is chemist and biophysicist and winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry. After completing his BSc at University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, he attended the University of Cape Town on scholarship where he received M.Sc. degree. In 1949 he moved to Cambridge in England, he studied molecular structure of steel and wrote a thesis on the changes that occur when molten steel solidifies, for which he earned Ph.D. in 1952.

In 1953 he obtained a fellowship to work at Birkbeck Collage in London, where he met Rosalind Franklin. They worked together to determine the structural nature of the tobacco mosaic virus. After Franklin's death in 1958 he continued his work on viruses together with Kenneth Holmes and John Finch. In 1962 he accepted a position at Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.

His major contribution to scientific research was the development of crystallography electron microscopy for which he was awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988.

More Information: Wikipedia, Nobelprize.org