Friday, June 14, 2013


Moore Park, Ames, Iowa (Jun 14, 2013)

The big news of today is that SCOTUS has decided about the possibility of patenting human genes. The court opinion is quite interesting, and largely expected. Human genes cannot be patented, as they are a product of nature, while patents are admissible for genetic sequences created as part of diagnostic techniques. This means that companies like Myriad Genetics (that holds the patents related to the "breast cancer genes" BRCA1 and BRCA2) can still charge $3,000 for their test, but their monopoly is broken as researchers are allowed to develop new tests based on the same genes. These new tests will eventually make these genetic screening much more affordable. 

One weird thing about the sentence, though, is that while the Court voted unanimously, Judge Scalia refused to subscribe to the first part of the Court opinion. This is where the "textbook" basic principles of genetics are summarized (e.g. "what is a gene", "what is DNA", etc), and where is mentioned that "the study of genetics can lead to valuable medical breakthrough". Judge Scalia in his remarks wrote that he could not subscribe to the above sentences because "I am unable to affirm those details on my own knowledge or even my own belief". Judge Scalia does not believe in molecular biology? Or maybe he doesn't believe that the study of genetics is beneficial for society? Maybe he only wanted to point out that he didn't need to understand the scientific mumbo-jumbo in the court opinion to affirm the basic principle, that human genes cannot be patented. Ok then...

Today's photo has nothing to do with SCOTUS, or genetics. It is just some grass, found at Moore Park. The inset on the left is also grass, but flowering: did you know that prairie grass has little yellow flowers that hang down like little yellow lantern?

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