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Copy of the first patent ever awarded on a living organism, United States, 1981

Controversially awarded on 31 March 1981, this is the first patent ever given for a living organism. The recipient was Ananda Chakrabarty (b. 1938), an Indian-American microbiologist, for a genetically engineered bacterium that digests oil spills. It established legally the idea that information about genes could be privately owned and so allowed people to patent biological material. Ananda Chakrabarty donated this copy to the Science Museum’s collections in 2000.

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Part of the nucleus of a cell that determines how our bodies function. Genes are passed from parents to children.

Glossary: patent

Grants made by a government to an inventor, assuring the inventor the sole right to make, use, and sell the invention for a certain period of time.