In 1930 the United States passed the Plant Patent Act, which provided a 20-year patent restricting asexual production on protected varieties. It differs from a regular patent in that it does not involve manufacturing or "making" the plant. This gave limited patent rights to varietal developers and plant breeders, but didn't give them ownership of the lifeforms they developed.
That changed in 1980 when the Supreme Court awarded an appeal to patent an oil-eating microbe in the case Diamond v. Chakrabarty, which allowed the patenting of a life form. This in turned was the basis for a 1987 decision by the PTO to extend patenting to all altered or engineered animals. Now "bioprospecting" or as some call it, "biopiracy" is rampant.
Our recent reading has lead us to believe that using biotech as a form of natural selection does not seem to play out when reviewing new varietals and proposed patents. Universities, pharmaceutical and big-ag companies are trying to capitalize on all sorts of life forms, not all of it microbial in nature. Monsanto is one of the worst offenders, and they're doing it hand-in-hand with our government. Most of Monsanto's board of members are current holders of key government positions.