Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

June 22, 2013

Another View: Protect more advanced genetic research by law

Two recent unanimous Supreme Court decisions delved into cutting-edge genetic research and patent protection. Both decisions will ensure more creative and advanced research that will better society.

(T)he court ruled that Myriad Genetics Inc. could not claim a patent on genes in the human body (and) agribusiness giant Monsanto did have the right to patent its genetically modified soybean.

Myriad had isolated two gene mutations which greatly increase a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer. ...(T)he company acquired a patent on the genes, allowing it to block other companies from offering diagnostic tests unless they paid Myriad substantial licensing fees. ... (C)ancer screening tests could have cost ... $3,000 per test.

The justices ruled that no one has the right to patent naturally occurring things. ...

The decision will produce a flurry of competition among public and private-company researchers to develop more and cheaper genetic tests for a variety of diseases. And companies will still have the ability to make substantial money ... by ... being the first to discover and market it.

While the Monsanto case also involved genetics and patents, the issue was clearly different. ...

In the past, soybean fields could not be sprayed with herbicide because it would kill the soybeans as well as weeds. But Monsanto genetically engineered soybeans that resist herbicide, allowing farmers to keep their fields weed free without having to pull the weeds by hand.

When farmers buy the modified seed - which are triple the cost of traditional seed - they sign a contract pledging not to keep any of the seeds they produce and use them in planting the following spring.

But (Indiana farmer Vernon) Bowman thought he found a way around the ban. He purchased soybeans from the local elevator, knowing most would be herbicide resistant. He planted and sprayed them and waited to see which ones survived. He then kept some of the seeds from those plants and planted them the next year.

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