Recent rulings at the Supreme Court of the United States have left some people confused at its ideological composition, traditionally held to be perfectly balanced between four liberals and four conservatives, with a "swing vote" in the middle. In order to help explain what's going on, I prepared this useful info-graphic. Read the rest
A Dr. Seuss reference has been dropped in the nation's highest court. Read the rest
The US State Department announced the launch of its third annual "Free the Press" campaign today, which will purportedly highlight "journalists or media outlets that are censored, attacked, threatened, or otherwise oppressed because of their reporting." A noble mission for sure. But maybe they should kick off the campaign by criticizing their own Justice Department, which on the very same day, has asked the Supreme Court to help them force Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter James Risen into jail. Read the rest
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide later this year whether a corporation can have religious beliefs. Maggie Koerth-Baker looks at the science of birth control, and how it might inform the debate.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told New York Magazine's Jennifer Senior that he believes in the devil. "He's a real person," Scalia says. From New York:
Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.
It’s because he’s smart.
So what’s he doing now?
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.
In Conversation: Antonin Scalia
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You can't patent the building blocks of life, but you can patent a type of synthetic DNA that contains all the same information. Maggie Koerth-Baker
explains how the Justices misunderstood the science and the effect that their verdict could have on future research.
Nine people who have not recently made any sweeping judgements about biotechnology.
Last week, I told you about the US Supreme Court ruling that made it illegal to patent naturally occurring DNA. In that article, I talked briefly about the fact that the new ruling doesn't cover all DNA. It's still perfectly legal to patent synthetic DNA, and the court documents referred specifically to complementary DNA (aka cDNA).
This is where things get murky. Complementary DNA is a thing that can be both natural and synthetic. And, as a laboratory creation, it's an important step in a common method of replicating naturally occurring DNA. All of which leaves some holes in the idea that the Supreme Court ruling is a simple "win" for open-access science, patent activists, and patients. After all, if you can't patent a gene, but you can patent the laboratory copy of the gene, what's that mean? It's sort of like not being able to patent a novel, but being able to patent a copy of its contents that's had all the white space removed. It seems like everybody is a bit confused by this. So I wanted to take a moment to at least clarify what cDNA is and what some people, on different sides of the science/law/biotech divides, are thinking about it.
It starts with some stuff you learned back in junior high — how information from your DNA gets turned into actual working proteins. Read the rest
In an unanimous decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled today that companies can't patent genes, or parts of genes — at least, so long as that genetic material is identical to what occurs in nature. The lawsuit dealt specifically with Myriad Genetics, the company that isolated and has claimed a patent on BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 — genes associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers. From a practical perspective, Myriad's hold on the genes has meant that tests for genetic cancer risk are strikingly expensive — Xeni paid more than $3000 for hers. It's also meant that, if you get a positive result, there's been nowhere you could go for a second opinion.
That's a big deal. Mutations in the BRCA 1 and 2 genes mean an increased risk of cancer, but there's more than one kind of mutation that can happen. In fact, BRCA 1, alone, has hundreds of known mutations. Some increase your risk of cancer. But, even if you narrow it down to just those, they don't all increase the risk by the same amount. The health choices you make could be very different depending on whether you have an 80% risk of developing breast cancer by age 90 (the worst-case scenario for BRCA 1 mutations), or something much lower. That's the kind of situation where you might really like to have more than one lab run more than one kind of test.
This ruling opens the door for that, and the competition should (theoretically) also lower the cost. Read the rest
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