Friday, June 21, 2013

Current Events: Supreme Court Rules on Gene Patenting

I am sure you know, last week the Supreme Court ruled on gene patenting. The gist was: Native DNA cannot be patented, but copies of native DNA (cDNA) can be. An interesting ruling. A sort of nobody wins (or loses) ruling.


Here is my opinion

I wonder what the Supreme court's true intent was?  Or if they were vague on the science? The wording the judges use is a little funny from a scientific standpoint, and suggest a tentative grasp on the science at best. Scalia even made a statement "I join the judgement of the Court, except going into fine details of molecular biology. I am unable to affirm those details on my own knowledge or even my own belief." For full article see Slate. I love the honesty, and it makes me wonder...did they know what they were doing when they parsed out native DNA from cDNA?

I also wonder how this ruling will affect the logistics of genetic research. Does this mean other scientists (not Myriad) cannot work with the BRCA cDNA? Say I want to do research with these cDNAs but not infringe on Myriad's patents. Can I just make a silent mutation in the cDNA? Or would this mutated cDNA still "read on" Myriad's patent? I do not know.

Gene Mining is like Mineral Mining

I think I am glad that native genes cannot be patented. Go free knowledge. But I am concerned about the future financial health of genetics research.

Where is the incentive to discover new genes, if you cannot patent and make money off of them?  No one would ever mine a piece of land without the promise that they would keep the gold they find. That is why there are mineral patents. Mineral patents promise a company that they can keep any minerals they find on said land. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to think that no research company will mine for genes in our genomes, unless they can patent the genes and make money off of them.

No one would mine for minerals
if they could not keep what they found.
Doing science is expensive, and I am not thrilled with federal funding at the moment. I am concerned that the ruling may prove a huge deterrent to privately funded biomedical research.

Transcript of Oral Argument

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