The Genealogy of a Gene

From Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology

The Genealogy of a Gene

Patents, HIV/AIDS, and Race

By Myles W. Jackson

The history of the CCR5 gene as a lens through which to view such issues as intellectual property, Big Pharma, personalized medicine, and race and genomics.





The history of the CCR5 gene as a lens through which to view such issues as intellectual property, Big Pharma, personalized medicine, and race and genomics.

In The Genealogy of a Gene, Myles Jackson uses the story of the CCR5 gene to investigate the interrelationships among science, technology, and society. Mapping the varied “genealogy” of CCR5—intellectual property, natural selection, Big and Small Pharma, human diversity studies, personalized medicine, ancestry studies, and race and genomics—Jackson links a myriad of diverse topics. The history of CCR5 from the 1990s to the present offers a vivid illustration of how intellectual property law has changed the conduct and content of scientific knowledge, and the social, political, and ethical implications of such a transformation.

The CCR5 gene began as a small sequence of DNA, became a patented product of a corporation, and then, when it was found to be an AIDS virus co-receptor with a key role in the immune system, it became part of the biomedical research world—and a potential moneymaker for the pharmaceutical industry. When it was further discovered that a mutation of the gene found in certain populations conferred near-immunity to the AIDS virus, questions about race and genetics arose. Jackson describes these developments in the context of larger issues, including the rise of “biocapitalism,” the patentability of products of nature, the difference between U.S. and European patenting approaches, and the relevance of race and ethnicity to medical research.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262028660 352 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 14 figures


$25.00 X ISBN: 9780262533782 352 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 14 figures


  • This well-researched book demonstrates the influence of genetics on society.

    Library Journal

  • [A]n exceptionally well-documented analysis of the intricacies and dilemmas of modern biomedical science through the window of a gene—intimately involved in the outcome of one of the greatest pandemics of modern times.

    Robert C. Gallo


  • Professor Myles W. Jackson's recent book is an impressive examination of the CCR5 gene, which provides a carefully detailed interdisciplinary understanding involving biochemistry, genetics, biotechnology as well as the historical and contemporary aspects of patenting and intellectual property laws.


  • …Jackson's genealogy is a rich, technically sophisticated contribution to the history and STS literatures on molecular biology and intellectual property.

    Daniel J. Hicks

    Monash Bioethics Review


  • Myles Jackson has written a unique book: stories of one gene seen through multiple prisms. The *CCR5* gene is examined in the context of modern medicine, science, biotechnology, intellectual property, patentability, genetics, epidemiology, race, and history. Constantly enlightening!

    David Baltimore

    Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology, Caltech; Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, 1975

  • The Genealogy of a Gene is a history of the present in a very literal sense. Myles Jackson, a distinguished historian of physics with a background in molecular biology, uses comparative insight from studies of nineteenth-century German chemistry to examine and evaluate the intellectual property regime that resulted in an explosion of gene patents in the genomic and post-genomic eras. Jackson not only tells a compelling and insightful story about the piecemeal commercialization of the genome, he also provides arguments that have proved effective in recent legal efforts to push back against the seemingly inexorable trend toward gene patents and the privatization of genomic information.

    Michael E. Lynch

    Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Cornell University

  • Jackson's book is original, authoritative, and extensive—not only a scientific history of the gene that figures in the body's response to HIV but also a critical account of its commercial control and of its reach into race and disease. In all, a tour de force that casts a bright light on genomics and biocapitalism.

    Daniel J. Kevles

    Stanley Woodward Professor of History, Yale University; author of In the Name of Eugenics; coeditor of The Code of Codes: Scientific and Social Issues in the Human Genome Project