Harvard University has been granted a patent for a genetically altered mouse, the first time a patent has been issued for an animal, a published report says.

The Washington Post quoted congressional sources Tuesday as saying the mice will be used for cancer-related research. Critics said the new patent set a dangerous precedent.The Patent and Trademark Office spokesman Oscar Mastin declined to confirm the Post report but said Patent and Trademark Commissioner Donald Quigg would announce "a significant patent" at a news conference.

The Supreme Court in 1980 ruled that man-made life organisms could be patented, but the Harvard patent is the first to protect a genetic change in a higher life form, the newspaper said.

Licensing rights for the patent are held by Du Pont Co., which financed the research. While Harvard would not discuss its patent, experts said genetically altering a mouse would involve inserting a gene from another animal into a mouse embryo to give the animal characteristics it otherwise would not have.