Portrait of a bacterium as copyright infringement

Cried the estate of James Joyce to scientist J. Craig Venter.

Back in May 2010, geneticist J. Craig Venter announced the creation of the first synthetic life form, having replaced the genetic code in a Mycoplasma capricolum bacterium with DNA he and his team had created themselves, thus turning into a Mycoplasma mycoides. To differentiate the synthetic code from naturally occuring DNA code, they composed theirs of several quotes, including one from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man along with a quote from Richard Feynman.

The Feynman quote turned out to be misphrased, but the real oddness arose when Venter received a cease & desist letter from the Joyce estate stating that the work quoted was not, in fact, under fair use, as Venter and his team had assumed. Of course, by then the bacterium had already successfully reproduced. (Can’t stop the signal?)

Which brings to mind the question…are we now nearing a point where copyright law can result in the retraction of a life form?

I’m seeing an analogy between genetic code and stream of consciousness here.

Image: CityPages (h/t AK)

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Filed under Genetics, Literature, Research

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