In recent years, ads from companies such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA have become a staple on television and social media. They promise customers a chance to find out family secrets through DNA collection. What’s rarely emphasized is that the real DNA data gold mine is selling the information gathered by customers to big pharma, which can then be better positioned to sell its products.
To look into how DNA became a multibillion-dollar industry, I talked to Myles W. Jackson, the inaugural Albers-Schönberg Professor in the History of Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Myles is the author of three books, Spectrum of Belief (2000), Harmonious Triads (2006), and The Genealogy of a Gene (2015). In our conversation, we take up Myles’s fascinating new essay “Ownership, Knowledge, and Genetic Information” which will appear next year in a book titled Ownership of Knowledge: Beyond Intellectual Property, edited by Dagmar Schäfer, Marius Buning, and Annapurna Mamidipudi.
In our wide-ranging discussion, we talk about how the courts have opened the door to corporate ownership of DNA data and how the DNA industry ends up promoting a regressive idea that ethnic identity is a matter of bloodlines. There are many reasons to be wary of the corporate ownership of DNA data, not least that it ends up replicating racism in a new way.
Myles and I are joined in this conversation by journalist Doug Bell, a frequent guest on the podcast who can be found here.
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