Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Founding Fragments - OncoMouse

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We're all familiar with the

image of the little white lab mouse running frantically through

a maze; searching ever for that mysterious and

elusive hunk of cheese. The reality is not always quite so cute,

and certainly not so simple. Use of animals for experimentation

obviously raises a host of very important and difficult moral

questions, and in the mid-1980s this guy

took center stage in the debate. Genetically modified to be

be useful in cancer research, he's known as OncoMouse

and he was the first animal to be patented in US history.


So to learn more about OncoMouse, we're here with Mallory Warner

who's a project assistant in the Division of Medicine and Science, and we're here with

one of the very few previously alive objects

the OncoMouse. It's called the OncoMouse because

the prefix "Onco-" means "cancer." I was wondering what that meant.

Right. Oncology, oncologist, so he is a cancer mouse.

He is specifically, genetically engineered to develop cancer,

to be predisposed to develop cancer. OncoMouse is particularly important because this is the first


organism to be patented.

And you know patent history is surprisingly awesome.

So why is it that OncoMouse gets patented when nothing else

before it has?

Patent history is really important in American history,

it's actually something that is written into the Constitution. The Founding Fathers put in a line

about promoting science and the useful arts, so in the

mid-70s when people first were able to start genetically engineering organisms.

There was a scientist at General Electric who developed

a bacteria that would eat oil, so if there was oil

spill, you could throw these bacteria out and they would clean it up.

And he wanted a patent for it, and the Patent Office rejected him.

It went all the way to the Supreme Court

and in 1980, it was decided that you could patent organisms,

and specifically genetically engineered organisms because they were

a product of man, not a product of nature. And eventually in 1987

they decided "Yeah, we will start

allowing patents on higher-level organisms." So then they

have got this whole field so who's going to be the first? They want to

pick somebody, something, some animal that has a really,

is very symbolic. So OncoMouse

they thought had been developed for a moral good. Here was this

little mouse that had been genetically engineered. Obviously it's upsetting that its

been genetically engineered to get cancer, but it was done for

a good reason. We wanted to have it available to do cancer research, to hopefully help

people who are suffering from cancer. So OncoMouse was selected

and in 1988 OncoMouse received its patent.

How do you even get an OncoMouse that's alive?

Right. Well OncoMouse, despite being,

you know, a living animal that ate and slept and

whatever else, he was a product. As with

most products there were promotional materials that were developed to help sell the OncoMouse.

See this t-shit. So it's interesting, the mouse in

more promotional material seems wise, calm.

He looks like a science superhero mouse. Right, he definitely does. He has all this

DNA and these are antibodies flying out of him,

he looks like a superhero. Anyway, it's interesting to contrast

the way the mouse is presented here in the marketing material with

the informative newsletter where this mouse is clearly

lumpy, he's not a healthy mouse. The idea of

patenting a higher-level organism, of course, brought on all sorts of controversy.

You had reactions from religious groups who felt that this was

playing God, you shouldn't be doing that. You had reactions from environmental groups who were afraid that

the organisms would escape into the environment and interbreed

and mess with the natural populations. You had

backlash from farmers who were afraid livestock would be genetically

modified, patented and then they would not be allowed to breed the

livestock naturally, that they'd have to pay.

Not to mention animal rights groups.

Animal rights groups of course had a problem with doing any sort of

you know genetic transformation of animals to begin with and

it does change the relationship with an animal if it's suddenly just

a piece of profit. It's a different dynamic.

When I look at it I think "Oh cancer reasearch." I think about

DuPont selling it and marketing it.

There is a truth to the idea that if you patent an animal, if you make it a product,

it removes the natural reaction of "this is another living organism"

So it does definitely change the dynamic.

Cool. Well thank you for joining us today. This has been

incredibly weird, but informative and neat. My pleasure.

And thank you guys for joining us today too! I hope you also found it

creepy and cool.


The Description of Founding Fragments - OncoMouse