I know this might seem off-topic, but you can think of a living organism as a software, with its DNA/genome being the code. In that sense, there is a project aimed at discovering the source code of every software available on earth. I wonder if there are advocates, particularly organisations, calling for DNA/genomes to be open source, and copyleft? This is, that whoever re-engineers a species must not close the code (actually, this is impossible, as you can sequence the genome of any specie), and must not possess the intellectual property of it, nor stop others from using such creations. I know there is something like this for bees, plus the more well known case for seed sovereignty. But I haven't yet found a group calling for all DNA to be made open source. Are you aware of a group like this?

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    Since sequencing is possible, then it would be more of a Free Software thing than an open source thing.
    – ivanivan
    Feb 8, 2019 at 4:11

2 Answers 2


Applying concepts like Open Source or Copyleft to DNA is a category error. This confuses copyright with life sciences.

Software enjoys copyright protection because software is a creative work. Furthermore, some software-based inventions may be patentable. By default, this prevents other people from using and modifying the software. Open Source licenses fix that by providing a license to the public. Copyleft licenses in particular are a clever technique so that no one can exercise their copyright in a software to prevent others from modifying it.

DNA is not copyrightable because it is not a creative work, and not generally patentable because it is not an invention. Knowledge, ideas, and discoveries are not generally protectable IP. Similarly, astronomers cannot copyright a comet they discovered.

However, inventions, techniques, and data sets can be protected. In particular, a data set representing a sequenced genome may be protected by not-quite-copyright “similar rights” or “database rights”. This prevents others from copying the data set without license, but cannot prevent others from sequencing the same genome. This is similar to how no one can copyright a tree, but photographers have a copyright for their pictures of the tree. (Aside: story of two photographers who captured the same scene at the same moment)

The availability of data sets incl. sequenced genomes is important – but that is a concern for open access science. In connection with the Human Genome Project, the scientific community did in fact agree on the Bermuda Principles, which sets out rules for rapid public release of sequence data. While massive amounts of data are available in the GeneBank, these data sets are not necessarily under an open license.

A completely separate problem are engineered organisms, where the genome may be an invention or creative work. Furthermore, the use of individual genes or DNA sequences can be an invention. Whether biological patents are possible differs wildly between jurisdictions. For example, insulin as a medicine is encumbered by patents despite being a naturally occurring substance. In the EU, biological products can be patented if they are isolated from their natural environment or produced through a technical process. The situation in the US is similar, except that naturally occurring DNA sequences are ineligible for patent protection.

  • "discoveries are not generally protectable IP" -- I disagree -- the US Constitution explicitly provides for "securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries".
    – nanoman
    Jun 20, 2022 at 5:42
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    @nanoman As I mostly write from an EU perspective, it might very well be that my use of technical terms is more sloppy in an US context. But it seems to me that this clause protects discoveries of inventors, as clarified by US rules on patentability, not any scientific discovery.
    – amon
    Jun 20, 2022 at 10:56

Josiah Zayner might be in the realm of what you're interested in, though I can't vouch for how legit he is or if he's just got a good viral sales pitch. Nevertheless, interesting guy! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josiah_Zayner

He used to work for NASA and then left, and started working on creating biohacking kits for crispr that people could use at home.

He claimed to have injected himself with a myostatin knock out crispr kit live on facebook. Don't know if it worked because I haven't heard anything about it.

EDIT: I reached out to him on twitter and actually found a follow up article he did: http://theantisense.com/2018/11/13/true-story-i-injected-myself-with-a-crispr-genetic-enhancement/

Like I said, interesting guy.

  • "viral sales pitch" please tell me the pun was unintentional!
    – MadHatter
    Feb 12, 2019 at 15:40
  • haha oh it was! Feb 12, 2019 at 21:02

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