Recorded: 29 May 2003
I was one of the people at the Bermuda Conference, at the first Bermuda meeting, and I attended all of the Bermuda meetings. And I was one of the original people that voted in favor of free and open giving away the information. In fact, it’s really frustrating today—we give away so much stuff that people use it and don’t recognize that you actually gave it away.
We give away all of our protocols on the web. We give all away our data on the web. And in GenBank and in the like, and so. And then we have to write the papers and again, explain them. But it’s a tough thing. But this is your genome and my genome and we have to keep it freely available. And for people to get the idea that they can patent nature in that way to me is very, very disconcerting. I don’t think we should patent genes. I don’t think we should patent these things that some companies have tried to do.
I think that at some place companies need to make money. That is their role in life is to make money. I mean they try and say they are doing nice things for us, but in real life they are making money. That’s their job, okay. Our job is to make students and to make scientific discoveries.
But I think that you should be able to patent things like a test that you’ve developed, you know, or something diagnostic, or a cure for something. But to say that—what does it gain somebody to patent this gene if you don’t have some way of making money out of it at some point in time. And I don’t think you should patent the gene. You should patent a use of that gene or you should patent a diagnostic test for a defective gene.
I mean we actually did the genes involved in leukemia. And we gave it away. We never patented it, okay. And, you know, there are still diagnostic tests that people have patented based on our gene and I say, great! We gave you that data. That data is freely available, go make a test, cure this disease. I’ll just be as pleased as punch to have been the person that got some of the data that led to these tests. I, you know, decided to be a professor and, you know, I don’t want to be wealthy. I want to be wealthy in other reasons, in the people that I meet.
Bruce Roe is a George Lynn Cross Research Professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a Ph.D in biochemistry from the University of Western Michigan and received a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellowship to research at SUNY Stony Brook. He spent his 1978-79 sabbatical at Fred Sanger’s lab, where he helped develop the renowned method of DNA sequencing currently used today.
Roe is founding director of the Advanced Center for Genomic Technology (ACGT) at the U. of Oklahoma, one of the first large-scale sequencing facilities in the US. At present, the ACGT innovates computational and robotic methods to analyze DNA sequence results and is currently determining the nucleotide sequence of five microbial genomes. In 1999, Roe’s research led to the elucidation and publication of the complete sequence of human chromosome 22. This was the first human chromosome to be sequenced in its entirely.
He has attended genome meetings and symposia at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for over 20 years.