Genes are not patentable

Last Thursday the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously that natural human genes, even isolated from the human body, cannot be patented, a decision that scientists, doctors, patients and civil rights campaigners celebrate because it removes a major barrier to medical care and innovation.

The court said that human DNA is a “product of nature”, a basic tool of scientific and technological work, thereby placing it beyond the domain of patent protection. The resolution strikes down patents held by Myriad Genetics Inc, a Utah based company, on two BRCA1 and BRCA1 genes linked to a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

The ruling represents a major shift in the law and will have a profound effect on the biotechnology and drug industry. It will allow new companies and laboratories to enter the market on genetic testing reducing the costs and making easier to develop new combinations of tests and therapies tailored to each person’s unique genetic makeup.

However, the court limited its’ ruling. It held that synthetic DNA, forms of DNA that have been manipulated in the lab in a way that modifies their natural state, could be patented.

The decision resolves one of the most important and complex disputes in a generation involving the intersection of science, law and commerce. The issue has gained increasing importance as scientists make progress in identifying specific genes, or mutations, linked to a variety of diseases. The full text of the decision is available here [in English] and here an in deep feature about the resolution and the decade-long conflict with human genes patents [in Spanish].

Bio-hackers getting ready for 3D DNA printing on demand

What if technology could prevent birth defects, store massive amounts of data, help a gay couple have their own genuine biological children by mixing and matching their DNA in software or increase the mind’s ability to tap its full potential? It would be a very weird world, indeed. But, that future world may not be so far away if Cambrian Genomics, a San Francisco based bio-hacking company started by Austen Heinz, has its way.

Right now 3D printing human DNA costs $2.2 billion. Heinz has found a way to build hardware/systems for laser printing DNA 10.000 times cheaper paving the way to make the technology available for the masses so anyone will become a genetic designer. Heinz says his DNA laser printing technology currently can produce more DNA in a single round than all the machines in the world in an entire year.

If synthetic DNA will become a consumer product only time will tell but, meantime, if you want to learn more about how DNA laser printing work don’t miss the following video: