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An attempt to patent genetic material donated by rural African communities has sparked a global scientific rumpus.

South African researchers and traditional leaders fear scientists will soon start patenting the genes of local ethnic groups, many of whom have donated blood samples as part of a worldwide genome-mapping project.

This week, several lawyers, researchers and community leaders denounced an American patent application for unique gene mutations found in DNA samples collected in Tanzania, Kenya and Sudan.

The American applicants, Dr Sarah Tishkoff and Dr Floyd Reed from the University of Pennsylvania, collected more than 2000 samples in East Africa and are sitting on a large blood bank of more than 5000 in total, taken from 80 African ethnic groups, including several from South Africa.

Known South African blood sample donors include the Ju-speaking !Xun (also known as Vasekela) and Khoe- speaking Khwe.

Their samples were collected from individuals in the area of Schmidtsdrift in the northwest Cape region of South Africa and provided by a prominent local scientist.

Although the Sunday Times has been unable to contact the American researchers... see more