an NFSA website

Catalyst – Genius of Junk (2003)


This is a story of triumph and tragedy. Dr Malcolm Simons, an internationally recognised immunologist, has turned 'junk DNA’ into gold. He has patented his discovery that non-coding DNA is of vital importance to our understanding of how diseases are diagnosed. And now the scientific community which hopes to build on Dr Simons’ extraordinary insights is faced with having to pay a licence fee to the company which has taken out a patent on this non-coding DNA.

Meanwhile, Dr Simons has been diagnosed with a life threatening cancer for which the cure may well be locked up in non-coding DNA.

Curator’s notes

'We used to think our fate was in our stars. Now we know, in large measure, our fate is in our genes.’ – James D Watson (co-discoverer of the double helix)

This Catalyst special, about the extraordinary research of an unusual man, has all the hallmarks of a Greek tragedy. Within the character of Dr Simons is the fierce intelligence and indomitable spirit that has seen him make one of the most important discoveries of molecular biology. Those same characteristics have brought him to the point where he is now fatally ill and financially struggling. It’s a compelling story of science that presents one of the most important moral questions of our time – should scientists be able to lock up their research for personal gain after their discoveries have been made or should their research and discoveries be freely available for other scientists to build on.