Slatest PM: Your Human Genes Are Safe From Patenting

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 13 2013 4:40 PM

Slatest PM: Your Human Genes Are Safe From Patenting

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People walk out of the U.S. Supreme Court building June 13, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Your Genes are Safe: Washington Post: "The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that human genes cannot be patented, a decision that could shape the future of medical and genetic research and have profound effects on pharmaceuticals and agriculture. The ruling was a split decision for Myriad Genetics Inc., which holds patents on genes that have been linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the court, said that merely isolating those specific genes — called BRCA1 and BRCA2 — was not worthy of a patent. ... On the other hand, Thomas wrote, Myriad’s creation of a synthetic form of DNA — called cDNA — based on its discovery does deserve patent protection. ... DNA research is a vital component of personalized medicine."

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Instant Analysis: New York Times: "The patents were challenged by scientists and doctors who said their research and ability to help patients had been frustrated. The particular genes at issue received public attention after the actress Angelina Jolie revealed in May that she had had a preventive double mastectomy after learning that she had inherited a faulty copy of a gene that put her at high risk for breast cancer. The price of the test, often more than $3,000, was partly a product of Myriad’s patent, putting it out of reach for some women. The company filed patent infringement suits against others who conducted testing based on the gene. ... The court’s ruling will also shape the course of scientific research and medical testing in other fields, and it may alter the willingness of businesses to invest in the expensive work of isolating and understanding genetic material."

Happy Thursday, and welcome to The Slatest PM. Follow your afternoon host on Twitter at @JoshVoorhees and the whole team at @slatest.  A quick programming note: I'm out tomorrow so there won't be a traditional PM post leading Friday's afternoon newsletter. But the @slatest blog proper will remain up and running. Things will return to normal on Monday.

Preventing 9/11? CBS News: "FBI Director Robert Mueller said Thursday that the government might have prevented the 9/11 terrorist attacks had similar surveillance programs been in place in 2001.  Mueller, addressing the House Judiciary Committee just months before the end of his 12-year tenure, outlined a sequence of intelligence data that was collected leading up to the attacks, and argued that the controversial programs, which collect telephone numbers and metadata, could have helped national security experts connect the dots relating to the plan—and even 'derailed' it entirely. 'Before 9/11 there was an individual by the name of Khalid Almihdhar who came to be one of the principal hijackers. He was being tracked by the intelligence agencies... They lost track of him,' Mueller said. "At the same time, the intelligence agencies had identified an al Qaeda safe house in Yemen. They understood that that al Qaeda safe house had a telephone number but they could not know who was calling into that particular—that particular safe house.'"

More Slate Coverage of the NSA Snooping—

Louisiana Blast: Associated Press: "An ground-rattling explosion at a chemical plant in Louisiana ignited a blaze Thursday that killed at least one person and left dozens more hurt, officials said. Thirty-seven people were taken to area hospitals by helicopter or ambulance, and another 24 with minor injuries were taken to a hospital by school bus, according to Clay Henry of Acadian Ambulance Service. State police Capt. Doug Cain said a body was found by hazardous materials crews going through the aftermath of the blast at the facility owned by The Williams Companies, based in Tulsa, Okla. The plant is in a sparsely populated area about 20 miles from Baton Rouge, with few homes nearby. Cain said it was unlikely anyone lived within a couple of miles of the plant."

Syria, Syria, Syria: Reuters: "U.S. President Barack Obama is deciding whether to take new action to help Syria's rebels, the White House said on Thursday, while President Bashar al-Assad's surging forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies turned their guns on the north. Assad's forces fought near the northern city of Aleppo on Thursday and bombarded the central city of Homs, having seized the initiative by winning the open backing of Hezbollah last month and capturing the strategic town of Qusair last week. The arrival of thousands of seasoned, Iran-backed Hezbollah Shi'ite fighters to help Assad combat the mainly Sunni rebellion has shifted momentum in the two-year-old war, which the United Nations said on Thursday has killed at least 93,000 people."

About As Low As You Can Go: CNN: "Americans' confidence in Congress as an institution has hit an all-time low, according to a new national poll. Asked about a list of institutions in American society, only 10% of those questioned in a Gallup survey released Thursday say they have confidence in Congress. That's down three percentage points from last year, and according to their release, 'this is the lowest level of confidence Gallup has found, not only for Congress, but for any institution on record.'  Congress ranks last on a list of 16 institutions. At the top of the list: The U.S. military. Seventy-six percent say they have confidence in the armed forces. The presidency ranked fifth, at 36%."

Colorado Fires: NBC News: "A monster wildfire in Colorado has reduced 360 homes to cinders, with fire officials facing continued challenges Thursday as they sought to contain the blazes that forced thousands of people to flee. The rising damage from what officials dubbed the Black Forest fire makes it one of the most destructive in the state's history. The flames had chewed through wooded residential areas of Colorado Springs and had covered about 15,000 acres by late Thursday morning. The number of homes destroyed jumped rapidly from the about 100 that had been consumed late Wednesday. Among those was the home of Jaenette Coyle, who watched flames devour her home on TV after bolting the area Wednesday."

On Second Thought: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: "[Wisconsin] Gov. Scott Walker's withdrawal of his student appointment to the University of Wisconsin System's Board of Regents — a student who signed a petition calling for the governor's recall two years ago — is drawing fire from Democratic lawmakers. The governor's press secretary confirmed Thursday that Walker withdrew the nomination of Joshua Inglett, who just completed his sophomore year at UW-Platteville, but did not respond to questions about the reason for the withdrawal. Walker refused to say why he pulled Inglett's appointment. ... Inglett told a Madison television station his appointment was withdrawn Wednesday, shortly after the governor's office asked him if he had signed the recall petition. Asked if that was accurate, Walker said, 'I wasn't involved in that directly. I'd just say in the interest of not pulling him through the details on this, we withdrew the nomination and we'll be submitting another name.'"

A Few More Quick Hits From Slate

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