A few short notes updating topics familiar to these pages.
First, it’s the 43rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. As best as I can tell, for once Discovery Channel does not feel the need to repeat the MythBusters episode where they busted several “fake moon landing” myths.
43 years ago today Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon, I was 6, it changed my life forever, my inspiration—
Mike Massimino (@Astro_Mike) July 20, 2012
The court case involving the Myriad Genetics tests for genes linked to breast cancer had oral arguments earlier today. The company has patented the two genes for which they conduct the tests. Currently at the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the case was remanded (kicked back downstairs) by the Supreme Court in March. I wasn’t at the court, but it is interesting to see that James D. Watson, who helped determine the structure of DNA (and was asked about patenting DNA back then), weighed in with an amicus brief. In the brief Watson outlines three main arguments:
- The uniqueness and potential of human genes makes patenting them an unnecessary impediment to benefit everyone. They are more than simple chemical compounds.
- The goal of the Human Genome Project was to benefit everyone, and patenting genes would run counter to that goal.
- The applications of genes – not the genes themselves – are the proper targets for commercialization. To that end, if the court feels it necessary to permit patenting of genes, they should be accompanied by compulsory licenses for research purposes. The discovery of additional genes requires unimpeded access to genetic information.
The court will not likely rule before the fall.
The House managed to pass a bill connected to rare earth minerals. H.R. 4402 is now with the Senate, where it waits action from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. This bill is relatively limited, focusing on the regulatory processes connected to permits and environmental assessments, as well as associated court actions. As best as I can tell, no other rare earth mineral bill introduced in this Congress has gotten passed by either chamber. And while this bill has, I don’t expect it to become law, at least this year.