Shop books, jigsaw puzzles, and more! Learn more »

For more great books from Algonquin, visit

The Genome Defense

Inside the Epic Legal Battle to Determine Who Owns Your DNA

By Jorge L. Contreras

In this riveting, behind-the-scenes courtroom drama, a brilliant legal team battles corporate greed and government overreach for our fundamental right to control our genes.

When Chris Hansen, an ACLU lawyer, learned that the US government was issuing patents for human genes to biotech companies, his first thought was: How can a corporation own what makes us who we are? Then he discovered that women were being charged exorbitant fees to test for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer—all because Myriad Genetics had patented the famous BRCA genes. So he sued them. 
The Genome Defense gives us a front-row seat as Hansen and a team of ACLU lawyers, along with a committed group of activists, scientists, and physicians, take their one-in-a-million case all the way to the US Supreme Court. Jorge L. Contreras, an attorney at the forefront of genetics law, interviews more than a hundred key players as he lays out the groundbreaking legal strategy to challenge human gene patents. The culmination of years of work, his book is both an intimate look at the cancer survivors whose lives have been affected by this case and a sweeping investigation into the fallout from our technological age of discovery.
Like The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Genome Defense is a powerful and compelling story about how society struggles to balance scientific advancement, corporate profits, and the rights of all people.

Read more

$27.95 (US)

Shipping to the U.S. only. Please see our International FAQ for more information.

Pre-Order From
Meet the Author
Jorge L. Contreras headshot

Jorge L. Contreras

More about the author
Review quotes
"Eye-opening . . . Contreras brings the large cast of case participants to life with vivid prose, and the exciting final spectacle before the Supreme Court is heart-pumping . . . a thorough page-turner.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A superb lesson on patents in general and the grotesque American patent system in particular . . . Contreras assembles a large cast of lawyers, judges, activists, scientists, and patients and engagingly describes four years of tortuous legal action that saw victory in federal court, reversal on appeal, and a final triumph in the Supreme Court . . . Fascinating.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“A gripping and important tale of how corporations were patenting our own genes and selling them back to us. Contreras give us front-row-seat access, deft character sketches and crystal-clear explanations of law and science.”
Jordan Fisher Smith, author of Engineering Eden

“A remarkable, fast-paced read. Contreras tells the behind-the-scenes story of how the Supreme Court stopped the patenting of the human genome. He does it in such an engaging style that it’s almost like reading a legal thriller.”
Professor Mark A. Lemley, Director, Stanford Program in Law, Science, and Technology

“Remarkable. Contreras manages to make a book about the lawsuit that ended gene patenting in America read like a thriller. This book will not only inform you and stir your moral outrage, it will keep you on the edge of your seat.”
—Ayelet Waldman, author of A Really Good Day  

The Genome Defense provides an incomparable perspective on a landmark Supreme Court case, and it is a testament to the importance of intellectual property law to humanity’s prosperity.”
Jessica Silbey, author of The Eureka Myth: Creators, Innovators, and Everyday Intellectual Property

“Both a page-turner full of colorful characters and a profound commentary about how corporate giants use the law to monopolize knowledge—and what we can do about it.”
—Orly Lobel, author of You Don't Own Me: The Court Battles that Exposed Barbie's Dark Side
Product Details
Number of pages
Publication date
October 26, 2021