Saturday, April 13, 2013

Patenting Human Genes & Crichton's Next

From Thursday's Guardian article "US supreme court to decide if companies can patent human genes:"
The US supreme court will hear oral arguments next week to decide whether companies can patent human genes, in a landmark case which could alter the course of US medical research and the battle against diseases such as breast and ovarian cancer.
A coalition of scientists, cancer survivors, patients, breast cancer groups and professional medical associations, which has brought the case, will argue that genes are "products of nature", like organs of the body and should not be exploited for commercial gain. Such patents are illegal and violate the first amendment, they say.
They are challenging patents on two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer owned by Myriad Genetics, a biotechnology company, because they say the patents have stymied research and the free exchange of ideas.
For a novel about gene patents, try Next by Michael Crichton:
Bestseller Crichton (Jurassic Park) once again focuses on genetic engineering in his cerebral new thriller, though the science involved is a lot less far-fetched than creating dinosaurs from DNA.
In an ambitious effort to show what's wrong with the U.S.'s current handling of gene patents and with the laws governing human tissues, the author interweaves many plot strands, one involving a California researcher, Henry Kendall, who has mixed human and chimp DNA while working at NIH. Kendall produces an intelligent hybrid whom he rescues from the government and tries to pass off as a fully human child.
Some readers may be disappointed by the relative lack of action, the lame attempts to lighten the mood with humor (especially centering on an unusually bright parrot named Gerard), and the contrived convergence of the main characters toward the end. Still, few can match Crichton in crafting page-turners with intellectual substance

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