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Author Topic: US Government takes position against patenting genes.  (Read 2376 times)

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Offline VekseidTopic starter

US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« on: October 30, 2010, 03:57:27 AM »
https://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/30/business/30drug.html?_r=1

Quote
Reversing a longstanding policy, the federal government said on Friday that human and other genes should not be eligible for patents because they are part of nature. The new position could have a huge impact on medicine and on the biotechnology industry.

The new position was declared in a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Department of Justice late Friday in a case involving two human genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer.

“We acknowledge that this conclusion is contrary to the longstanding practice of the Patent and Trademark Office, as well as the practice of the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies that have in the past sought and obtained patents for isolated genomic DNA,” the brief said.

...

Whoever managed to get this through deserves a reward.

Offline Trieste

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Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2010, 11:20:14 AM »
The patenting of genes always seemed to only benefit large companies that could defend the patents. In my sophomore bio course, we learned about the development of a genetic inoculation against disease that saved the papaya crop in Hawaii several years back. There was a difficulty in that the researchers couldn't freely use their technology that they'd developed for their home (the pair of researchers were Hawaiian, and had worked pretty much exclusively on the project without a team of backups or whatever) because the company that had provided financing turned around and filed for patent, then started charging astronomical amounts to the farmers who wanted to make use of the technology.

There's also the ridiculous question of whether a farmer has genengineered wheat in his yard and who it belongs to, etc. I don't support thievery, of course, but I do think that breakthroughs of this sort should be used toward the greatest good, not the greatest profit. If we've engineered a strain of rice that could feed the world, then feed the fucking world goddamnit.

Offline DarklingAlice

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2010, 03:24:55 PM »
I support the decisions, but the rationale seems absurd. The proper way to look at is touched upon in Trieste's comment above. The way things seem to have gone down winds up feeling a little meaningless and invokes the mythical man/nature divide.

"[...]human and other genes should not be eligible for patents because they are part of nature." Seems like a horrible reasoning. If I isolate a gene, yes, it is part of nature. If I then tinker with that gene, it is still part of nature. If I craft a synthetic gene de novo, guess what? It's part of nature. We are part of nature. If a gene is pushed a specific direction by laboratory scientists, or doctors, or farmers, or whomever; there is no real difference than if it arrived at that state through thousands of years of environmental pressure. It does not make it special.

The real reason we should not be patenting genes is because we need to operate with an eye towards the health of the species as opposed to corporate or even national interests (a lesson that is nowhere more clear in the emerging sciences of genomics and proteomics). Which is a principle which would not only protect the use of genes that are isolated from living systems, but also those that are engineered.

Under the schema reported on in the article:
Quote
However, the government suggested such a change would have limited impact on the biotechnology industry because man-made manipulations of DNA, like methods to create genetically modified crops or gene therapies, could still be patented.
So even if we do engineer a strain of rice that can feed the world, a company can still patent it and price-gouge. All this article is saying is that if we find a rice that can feed the world, then no one can patent it. Because the found rice is part of Nature as opposed to a work of Man. Which seems more than a little silly.

The other problem that arises from this is: Without the patents what impetus do companies have to fund research? Which is a tough one. I would say that they could patent and profit from their methodology but not their product. Although that is an off the cuff answer, it seems to work well at other intersections of biology and technology (again I will turn to agriculture, no one can patent wheat, but they can patent their new harvester).

EDIT: As an afterthought, the idea that that an isolated gene is not significantly different than a gene in the body (as the presiding justice ruled) is...misguided, at best. While it may remain structurally identical, the actual effect of any gene is highly dependent on the proteome derived from the collection of genes including it. Durr, et al. 2004 demonstrated a 40% difference in the gene products of cells in vivo and in vitro. The products of a gene in isolation, and its function, differs radically from the gene as a component of the genome. This is yet another way this ruling does not sit will with me.

tl;dr version: This is the right decision. In fact it needs to go even further. However, the reasoning given for it is disturbingly puerile.
« Last Edit: October 30, 2010, 04:02:50 PM by DarklingAlice »

Offline VekseidTopic starter

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2010, 09:22:07 PM »
I support the decisions, but the rationale seems absurd. The proper way to look at is touched upon in Trieste's comment above. The way things seem to have gone down winds up feeling a little meaningless and invokes the mythical man/nature divide.

"[...]human and other genes should not be eligible for patents because they are part of nature." Seems like a horrible reasoning. If I isolate a gene, yes, it is part of nature. If I then tinker with that gene, it is still part of nature. If I craft a synthetic gene de novo, guess what? It's part of nature. We are part of nature. If a gene is pushed a specific direction by laboratory scientists, or doctors, or farmers, or whomever; there is no real difference than if it arrived at that state through thousands of years of environmental pressure. It does not make it special.

...

It is separating the concept of discovery from the concept of creation. Isolating something - no matter how novel - is the act of discovery, just as algorithms are - and those things are not and should not be patentable.

We use the word 'natural' and 'Nature' to describe factors that are there to be discovered and explicitly not man-made. You are splitting hairs.

Offline DarklingAlice

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #4 on: October 31, 2010, 12:49:54 AM »
It is separating the concept of discovery from the concept of creation. Isolating something - no matter how novel - is the act of discovery, just as algorithms are - and those things are not and should not be patentable.

We use the word 'natural' and 'Nature' to describe factors that are there to be discovered and explicitly not man-made. You are splitting hairs.

I may well be. Yet, it seems to me, in this case, a needless (and in many ways false) separation. I agree completely that discovery and creation are unique, and that discoveries should not be patentable. However, true though that is, it does not seem sufficient to serves as a rubric for discussing gene patents.

1) The synthetic and natural sequences are indistinguishable. They involve the recombination of a limited number of factors. These are products that only differ in terms of arrangement. Further, any given gene is never going to be outside the ability of nature to replicate given time and selective pressure. This doesn't occur in other fields of technology. When nature cannot produce the same product, there is a clear line between the synthetic and the natural (E.g. Cars cannot spontaneously arise from the earth). But, when she can, things get significantly more complicated.

2) In the 200,000 years or so that homo sapiens has walked the planet we have become very very skilled at genetic engineering. As a species we modify the environment and the creatures within it to suit our needs, initially through selective hunting and later through selective breeding. Say we isolate a potent anti-biotic produced by a dog gene. That gene only exists through mankind's extensive selective breeding of canines over millenia. Is it suddenly more natural than an antibiotic we make in the lab?

3) How much modification makes something synthetic as opposed to natural? Novo Nordisk sells Humalin R, regular human insulin, and Novolog, normal human insulin with a single amino acid substitution. This single substitution radically changes the potency and effect of Novolog. Novolog had to be created in a lab through extensive engineering of an altered gene and expressing it in yeast. However, they are almost identical and there is nothing that puts that single amino acid substitution outside of the capability of nature (indeed it would be surprising if that substitution has not occurred at some point through random mutation of one of the three nucleic acids coding for it). What gives Novo Nordisk the right to patent either?

Humans are part of nature. For the purposes of genetic engineering our results are indistinguishable from that which could be achieved by nature. Many things we credit as natural are in fact the result of human genetic engineering (dog and cattle breeds, entire species of plants, etc.). Since the products of genetic engineering cannot be meaningfully distinguished from the products of evolution, and since the effect of man on nature is so widespread as to be ubiquitous, it seems to me meaningless to classify synthetic and natural genes as two separate things. Thus, whether discovered, altered, or created de novo genes should not be patentable regardless of their origin.

This recent legislation is a step in the right direction, but it really needed to go further.

Offline VekseidTopic starter

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #5 on: October 31, 2010, 01:01:02 AM »
I may well be. Yet, it seems to me, in this case, a needless (and in many ways false) separation. I agree completely that discovery and creation are unique, and that discoveries should not be patentable. However, true though that is, it does not seem sufficient to serves as a rubric for discussing gene patents.

1) The synthetic and natural sequences are indistinguishable. They involve the recombination of a limited number of factors. These are products that only differ in terms of arrangement. Further, any given gene is never going to be outside the ability of nature to replicate given time and selective pressure. This doesn't occur in other fields of technology. When nature cannot produce the same product, there is a clear line between the synthetic and the natural (E.g. Cars cannot spontaneously arise from the earth). But, when she can, things get significantly more complicated.

A synthetic gene would not in and of itself be patentable. New means of modifying it would be. A novel addition currently probably is, though that's because of the existence of product patents and those abominations aren't really relevant to this line of discussion.

Quote
2) In the 200,000 years or so that homo sapiens has walked the planet we have become very very skilled at genetic engineering. As a species we modify the environment and the creatures within it to suit our needs, initially through selective hunting and later through selective breeding. Say we isolate a potent anti-biotic produced by a dog gene. That gene only exists through mankind's extensive selective breeding of canines over millenia. Is it suddenly more natural than an antibiotic we make in the lab?

Breeding falls under prior art, by definition.

Quote
3) How much modification makes something synthetic as opposed to natural? Novo Nordisk sells Humalin R, regular human insulin, and Novolog, normal human insulin with a single amino acid substitution. This single substitution radically changes the potency and effect of Novolog. Novolog had to be created in a lab through extensive engineering of an altered gene and expressing it in yeast. However, they are almost identical and there is nothing that puts that single amino acid substitution outside of the capability of nature (indeed it would be surprising if that substitution has not occurred at some point through random mutation of one of the three nucleic acids coding for it). What gives Novo Nordisk the right to patent either?

Product patents, as opposed to method patents, I'm assuming.

Quote
This recent legislation is a step in the right direction, but it really needed to go further.

Of course. But abandoning progress because it doesn't take you the whole way is silly.

Offline Zakharra

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #6 on: October 31, 2010, 11:18:09 AM »
I may well be. Yet, it seems to me, in this case, a needless (and in many ways false) separation. I agree completely that discovery and creation are unique, and that discoveries should not be patentable. However, true though that is, it does not seem sufficient to serves as a rubric for discussing gene patents.

1) The synthetic and natural sequences are indistinguishable. They involve the recombination of a limited number of factors. These are products that only differ in terms of arrangement. Further, any given gene is never going to be outside the ability of nature to replicate given time and selective pressure. This doesn't occur in other fields of technology. When nature cannot produce the same product, there is a clear line between the synthetic and the natural (E.g. Cars cannot spontaneously arise from the earth). But, when she can, things get significantly more complicated.

2) In the 200,000 years or so that homo sapiens has walked the planet we have become very very skilled at genetic engineering. As a species we modify the environment and the creatures within it to suit our needs, initially through selective hunting and later through selective breeding. Say we isolate a potent anti-biotic produced by a dog gene. That gene only exists through mankind's extensive selective breeding of canines over millenia. Is it suddenly more natural than an antibiotic we make in the lab?

3) How much modification makes something synthetic as opposed to natural? Novo Nordisk sells Humalin R, regular human insulin, and Novolog, normal human insulin with a single amino acid substitution. This single substitution radically changes the potency and effect of Novolog. Novolog had to be created in a lab through extensive engineering of an altered gene and expressing it in yeast. However, they are almost identical and there is nothing that puts that single amino acid substitution outside of the capability of nature (indeed it would be surprising if that substitution has not occurred at some point through random mutation of one of the three nucleic acids coding for it). What gives Novo Nordisk the right to patent either?

Humans are part of nature. For the purposes of genetic engineering our results are indistinguishable from that which could be achieved by nature. Many things we credit as natural are in fact the result of human genetic engineering (dog and cattle breeds, entire species of plants, etc.). Since the products of genetic engineering cannot be meaningfully distinguished from the products of evolution, and since the effect of man on nature is so widespread as to be ubiquitous, it seems to me meaningless to classify synthetic and natural genes as two separate things. Thus, whether discovered, altered, or created de novo genes should not be patentable regardless of their origin.

This recent legislation is a step in the right direction, but it really needed to go further.

 So you are saying that if it's found in nature, it shouldn't be patented? Sorry, but that's stupid. If a company can tinker with some genes and modify a plant or an animal to make something beneficial, they should have the right to patent it since they spent the money developing it.

 They've made a anew type of plant/anmal. Your reasoning removes any reason for the  companies to do research into new biological products since they see no return on it at all.

 The fact we can make new plants/creatures in a way that nature hasn't, is a statement to our inginuity. Your reasoning can be extended  to anything we nake since all of it is made from products found in nature. Metals, oil, stone, t's all found in nature even if we do combine and make them into other things.


Offline DarklingAlice

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #7 on: October 31, 2010, 11:21:28 AM »
A synthetic gene would not in and of itself be patentable. New means of modifying it would be. A novel addition currently probably is, though that's because of the existence of product patents and those abominations aren't really relevant to this line of discussion.

That is completely unclear from the article:
Quote
But in its brief, the government said it now believed that the mere isolation of a gene, without further alteration or manipulation, does not change its nature.
Quote
While the government took the plaintiffs’ side on the issue of isolated DNA, it sided with Myriad on patentability of manipulated DNA.

Also, directly from the legal brief:
Quote
B. Engineered DNA Molecules, Including cDNAs, Are Human-Made Inventions Eligible For Patent Protection.
Against this background, the district court was clearly mistaken in invalidating the challenged composition claims, such as claim 2 of the ‘282 patent, that are limited to cDNAs. The court further erred in implying that any isolated DNA molecule whose value derives from the information-encoding capacity of DNA must be deemed an unpatentable product of nature. See, e.g., A218, A221-A222. Molecules that are engineered by humans, including cDNAs, vectors, recombinant plasmids, chimeric proteins, and similar fruits of the manipulation of genetic material, will almost invariably be patent-eligible subject matter. These molecules generally do not occur in nature, but are instead the synthetic results of scientists’ manipulation of the natural laws of genetics.

I may be reading that incorrectly, but that certainly seems like they are saying that isolated genes are not patentable (because they are products of nature and their nature remains unchanged) but modified or synthetic genes are. Which is what I am taking issue here. I am perfectly happy with methods and technology being patentable (and indeed even suggested it in my first post); however, I don't think that any gene, regardless of etiology, should be patentable, and that is not the position taken by the government as reported in this article and brief.



Breeding falls under prior art, by definition.
I am aware. I wasn't concerned with where it falls in patent law, or even the patentability of methods. <_< But rather challenging your notion that genes found in those animals are "natural" and "explicitly not man-made". I really take issue with a man/nature divide being used as rationale here, since the products, and indeed a large portion of the methodology, of genetic engineering is indistinguishable from the products and methodology of nature. All I am saying is that it is a false dichotomy and a poor basis for law (in this specific instance).



Of course. But abandoning progress because it doesn't take you the whole way is silly.
Not sure where I ever implied we should abandon this decision. And in case it was unclear the multiple times I have said it before: This is a good thing. However, it is not as big of a deal as the article is making of it, and has a poor basis. For clarity, I do not think that this was the wrong decision or one that should be abandoned. I am just not sure we should be handing out awards yet or pretending it is anything more than it is.

Offline mystictiger

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #8 on: October 31, 2010, 02:32:01 PM »
The amicus brief is largely irrelevent. It is a statement by lawyers of what the government thinks the law should be. Now, as the government, they don't need to express an opinion on what the law should be. They are in a unique position - given their position in the legislative process - to initiate what the law is. An amicus brief is not legislation. Further, I don't think that the US government can act unilaterally on this; the situation in which an isolated gene without further modification is patentable in the rest of the world but not in the US would result in a trade war.

The article adds a telling clue as to how useless this brief is:
Quote
[a lawyer] thought the Patent Office opposed the new position but was overruled by other agencies. A hint is that no lawyer from the Patent Office was listed on the brief.

This means that not even that various government agencies are playing from the same playsheet.

Quote
These are products that only differ in terms of arrangement.

The argument that all things are possible because they are a reorganisation of a given alphabet is unhelpful and simplistic. Copyright, for example, is merely the rearrangement of letters and words. The claim that the product is therefore not original will not help you if you're in breach of copyright. Cellulose differs 'only in terms of arragement' from starch. Humans differ from chimps by about 3%. I'd say that those small differences are pretty significant. The extreme extension of this argument is that everything is made from diferent elements, and that all forms of ... well... everything are merely rearrangements.

Quote
Further, any given gene is never going to be outside the ability of nature to replicate given time and selective pressure.

Unhelpful. A gene that inhibits or has no effect on survival will not be selectable for. For example, an individual with [hormone] will survive, while one without will die. You are therefore selecting for the presence, rather than the efficacy of the [hormone]. Sure, there -might- be a situation in which having super-insulin might be selected for, but that situation does not exist.

To my mind, the key distinction to be made is between what might exist and what does exist. The potential for a thing to exist is not the same as that thing actually existing. The mere act of isolating a gene is not sufficient to make something patentable, but to change something so that it is better, stronger, faster is.

Quote
There's also the ridiculous question of whether a farmer has genengineered wheat in his yard and who it belongs to, etc. I don't support thievery, of course, but I do think that breakthroughs of this sort should be used toward the greatest good, not the greatest profit. If we've engineered a strain of rice that could feed the world, then feed the fucking world goddamnit.

From a purely economic analysis of this position, I think that intellectual property is a poor way to promote research. It is also the best one we have available. The price we pay is a 20 year monopoly (which is, in my experience - having worked with a team that developed a number of patented drugs both as a lawyer and as scientist - more like 10 years. Only the biggest pharmaceutical companies have pockets deep enough to fund all the anti-infringement litigation that they'd need). The research may start with the noble belief that they can make the world a better place. That won't pay for the clinical trials.

Danger! Personal Rant Ahead
And on a personal note, I hate variations of gengineering and so on. If I were to build a bridge, I wouldn't say I civengineered it, and computer programs certainly aren't softwarengineered. Genetic engineering is cool enough already without the need for rebranding!

Offline VekseidTopic starter

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #9 on: October 31, 2010, 03:09:08 PM »
So you are saying that if it's found in nature, it shouldn't be patented? Sorry, but that's stupid. If a company can tinker with some genes and modify a plant or an animal to make something beneficial, they should have the right to patent it since they spent the money developing it.

They developed nothing. They used known techniques for isolating a gene. No innovation necessary, just sequence parsing.

Quote
They've made a anew type of plant/anmal. Your reasoning removes any reason for the  companies to do research into new biological products since they see no return on it at all.

You might have an argument if this was all they were patenting.

Offline Zakharra

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #10 on: October 31, 2010, 05:55:40 PM »
They developed nothing. They used known techniques for isolating a gene. No innovation necessary, just sequence parsing.

 What about gene splicing? Such as making corn plants that do not take as much nitrogen from the soil. What will companies do when they can make entirely new plants and animals using the genes that nature has? Gene enginerred food? There's already an outcry against those foods from people concerned about the safety of people who would eat it.

Offline Jude

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #11 on: October 31, 2010, 07:15:01 PM »
There's an outcry over GMO crops for the same fundamental fault of reason reflected by the language used in the explanation of this policy, the Naturalistic Fallacy (which is what DarklingAlice was explaining in her objection).

Edited for clarification.  First version of my statement it seemed like I was accusing her of using a fallacy, which was the opposite of what I was trying to say.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2010, 08:11:44 PM by Jude »

Offline mystictiger

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #12 on: October 31, 2010, 10:31:54 PM »
There's an outcry over GMO crops for the same fundamental fault of reason reflected by the language used in the explanation of this policy, the Naturalistic Fallacy (which is what DarklingAlice was explaining in her objection).

Edited for clarification.  First version of my statement it seemed like I was accusing her of using a fallacy, which was the opposite of what I was trying to say.

I disagree. There's an outcry over GM crops because:
1) Certain varieties of them are sterile, meaning you have to buy crops from Big Pharma companies every year.
2) They are regarded as unnatural (which is in itself an appeal to nature)
3) They do not encourage biodiversity
4) The Big Pharma companies that produce them have the right to block unflattering publications based on the trials that they sponsor.

I would be grateful if you could expand on the naturalistic fallacy argument as its not one I've heard before.

Offline Trieste

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Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #13 on: October 31, 2010, 10:35:55 PM »
I actually feel like the cry of 'frankenfood' is an appeal to emotion. Like, it's not a cry against big Pharma or any such nonsense. It's an appeal to fear.

Offline Jude

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #14 on: October 31, 2010, 11:30:26 PM »
Saying they're "unnatural" and thus bad is the naturalistic fallacy (appeal to nature) like you mentioned.  As for the rest, those are legitimate criticisms of the way the GMO crops are handled as possessions and legally, not of the technology itself (except for possibly the biodiversity argument, but I think stopping starvation is kind of more important).  There isn't reliable scientific evidence that shows GMO crops are bad -- a few studies here and there is no consensus -- in fact they're our only chance of feeding the ever-increasing population of human beings on planet earth.  The organic movement is out of touch with reality.

EDIT:  I'll get some links at some point to back up the claims made above, can't at the moment.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2010, 11:34:30 PM by Jude »

Offline DarklingAlice

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #15 on: November 01, 2010, 12:53:30 AM »
Let's see if we can't use the subject of frankenfood to toss this back towards the gene topic. The following is the sort of scenario that bothers me re: the patenting of synthetic genes:

Let's say we are a team of genetic engineers studying maize. We want to craft a more effective substitute for a gene that increases its resistance to a particular bacteria. So first, we isolate the gene (and I think we are all, including the US government, in agreement that that shouldn't be pattentable). So we find that by changing one amino acid in the structure of the protein it codes for, we achieve much greater resistance. And further, that to do so, all you need is a single nucleotide substitution mutation in the respective codon. So, we cause the necessary point mutation, express our synthetic gene in a retroviral vector, and transduce it into seeds. It is an amazing success, we patent the synthetic gene. The company is going to be rich and we're all gonna get laid!

At this point however, I begin to see the problem:
1. The world grows a truly staggering amount of maize.
2. The mutation rate is ~10^-8 to ~10^-9 per base per generation.
The consequences of this are: A) There is a very good chance that we have created and patented something that already exists in nature. The only way to determine that it does not is if we go out and genotype every single maize cell of every single plant in the world. B) Even if by some miracle it does not exist now, it could come to exist at any time.

So what happens to our patent when someone else isolates the identical gene from natural corn? It is literally identical in every way, it just was produced by nature instead of in our lab. We can't exactly sue evolution for patent infringement or bar our competitors from using the gene they isolated (because as we have agreed, a gene isolated from a natural specimen can't be patented). Thus we have a situation where the exact same nucleotide sequence (in the exact same conformation, with the exact same modifications, etc.) is simultaneously patentable and non-patentable. Which is absurd. Yet this is the system set up in the article and the amicus brief (or so it seems to me, I may well be misreading something).

This is why the subject of genes is different. Cars cannot arise spontaneously from base metal. Ten thousand monkeys on typewriters do not produce Hamlet because there aren't actually ten thousand monkeys on typewriters. When we make a piece of tech or write a book or create really anything other than a gene, we know that that tech, book, etc. does not, and indeed cannot, exist unless crafted by another human. However, there is a fixed mutation rate causing a constant variation in genes. Every one of us has a certain number of novel mutations. There is a definite possibility that any synthetic gene you make can arise spontaneously. And further there is no feasible way to demonstrate that this has not already occurred by the time you file for your patent.



Also...are they are really saying that the cDNA is a patentable entity separate from the gene? Doesn't that alone completely undermine the point?

Offline mystictiger

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #16 on: November 01, 2010, 07:34:55 AM »
Quote
At this point however, I begin to see the problem:
1. The world grows a truly staggering amount of maize.
2. The mutation rate is ~10^-8 to ~10^-9 per base per generation.
The consequences of this are: A) There is a very good chance that we have created and patented something that already exists in nature. The only way to determine that it does not is if we go out and genotype every single maize cell of every single plant in the world. B) Even if by some miracle it does not exist now, it could come to exist at any time.

It's not that simple. It would depend on the length and nature of the gene ;)

I'm so glad we're talking about maize - it was the only plant I had any contact with at all! The Maize genome is some 3-billion odd basepairs long. I have no idea how short the shortest gene in it is. Also, the only paper I can ever remember reading about Maize is starting to show its age.

What kind of region (as in hyper-variable / fixed) is it that our point-mutation will occur in? How many plants will we need to have in order to assume that at least one of them has the mutatation? It could well be that this mutant develops the gene in an environment that is not positively selecting for this resistant.

It could well be the case that you'd need to grow a hell of a lot more maize before you were to naturally produce even one such mutant. Because it may have been statistically likely to exist does not mean that it has existed yet. Perhaps such a mutant has already existed and died out. The situations in which a point mutation is responsible for a dramatic increase in utility and survivability are rare. In that if such a small change were to have a noticeable effect on survival / productivity, it would have already happened and it would be a known subtype of corn.

Further, it is my vague memory that most of the increasing resistance modifications done to maize are through insertion (e.g. a thuringiensis toxin into corn to kill borers) or through selective breeding (Clearfield, I understand, is a non-GM 'crop system' [already makes me salivate at the thought of eating a crop-system rather than... well... a crop] that is patented by BASF). The chances of maize generating an identical bacterial gene by substitution are ... somewhat rare.

I largely agree with the patenting of manipulated genetic material - the hope is that it will accidentally produce something actually useful rather than self-terminating crops that force farmers into a relationship of dependence.

Jude: I'd be very interested in your links when you get them. The idea that we need GM food to feed the world is a troubling one. I have a strong suspicion that food security isn't caused by a lack of production capacity, but rather by economic issues. Making more food available is one way to lower its price. The other is to change the nature of the international economic order.
« Last Edit: November 01, 2010, 01:36:30 PM by mystictiger »

Offline Zakharra

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #17 on: November 01, 2010, 12:57:28 PM »
Quote
J The idea that we need GM food to feed the world is a troubling one. I have a strong suspicion that food security isn't caused by a lack of production capacity, but rather by economic issues. Making more food available is one way to lower its price. The other is to change the nature of the international economic order.

 A growing world population means we need better ways to grow and move food. A large part of that is political though. Governments making it hard to move food into a country. (Africa and other Third world nations). We could feed the world easily now if those problems were removed. 

 It's removing them that is the problem though. No nation wants to give up sovereignty.  Changing the world economic order isn't going to happen anytime soon either.
« Last Edit: November 02, 2010, 01:21:38 PM by Zakharra »

Offline mystictiger

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #18 on: November 01, 2010, 01:41:59 PM »
Again, I find the idea disturbing that GM is the answer. We have seen that GM crops - when left in the hand of profit-hungry megacorps - produce things that require an annual purchase of seeds. Great. So while we may be able to feed the population, but instead we turn them into slaves. This is waaaay off topic. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation suggests that the answer to is to increase productivity of existing arable land, and that such efficiency increase is separate from biotech solutions.

Offline Trieste

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Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #19 on: November 01, 2010, 01:56:11 PM »
GM is not the only answer, and do bear in mind that whether you modify the plants in a lab or by cross-fertilizing in a field, that's still genetic modification. We've been doing it for centuries - with domesticated animals, with crops, with pretty plants that we put in gardens - so deciding to be afraid of it now is a little pointless.

GM is one of the better answers, however, because we can do things with it like develop crops that don't completely deplete the soil they grow in, allowing for shorter crop rotations or eliminating the need for it entirely. I probably don't need to spell it out for people, but I will anyway: more land = more crops = more food. This is an arguable benefit, however, since we supposedly produce enough food on the planet right now to feed everyone.

However, GM can also tackle the problem of malnutrition, which is a more pointed source of hunger on the planet. We can take something with little nutritional value - corn, perhaps - and infuse it with essential nutrients. We have the technology to do this, and it's absolutely shameful that ignorance and misapprehensions bar us from making use of it.

Offline mystictiger

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #20 on: November 01, 2010, 06:53:53 PM »
GM is not the only answer, and do bear in mind that whether you modify the plants in a lab or by cross-fertilizing in a field, that's still genetic modification. We've been doing it for centuries - with domesticated animals, with crops, with pretty plants that we put in gardens - so deciding to be afraid of it now is a little pointless.

GM is one of the better answers, however, because we can do things with it like develop crops that don't completely deplete the soil they grow in, allowing for shorter crop rotations or eliminating the need for it entirely. I probably don't need to spell it out for people, but I will anyway: more land = more crops = more food. This is an arguable benefit, however, since we supposedly produce enough food on the planet right now to feed everyone.

However, GM can also tackle the problem of malnutrition, which is a more pointed source of hunger on the planet. We can take something with little nutritional value - corn, perhaps - and infuse it with essential nutrients. We have the technology to do this, and it's absolutely shameful that ignorance and misapprehensions bar us from making use of it.

There's a biiig difference between the selective breeding and direct genetic modification. There's no amount of selective breeding that will result in corn and starfish getting it on! I remain a little skeptical of any technology that promises to be the magic bullet that will save us all. I think the only ones that came close so far have been the development of antibiotics (and the shine is starting to wear off those) and nuclear power (which again is starting to look less promising). Every few decades there are new ideas, new theories, new hopes about how our world will be dramatically reshaped by Science. In the 50s it was the power of the atom (Yes, I've been playing Fallout). I will believe that stem cell research or genetic modification or bucky balls or engineering solutions to carbon fixation will make our world better when it does so, not until.

I suspect the thing that has recently been discovered that will actually change our world noticable ie graphene. But maybe I'm just getting old and cynical and have lost the wonder at science that characterised my youth.

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Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #21 on: November 01, 2010, 07:03:50 PM »
There's a biiig difference between the selective breeding and direct genetic modification. There's no amount of selective breeding that will result in corn and starfish getting it on!

No, but considering how much we all seem to share of the same genome, you could probably just find a way to activate the right codons in wheat through selective breeding. The only difference is that scientists do it with better chemistry (couldn't resist) more efficiently.

I remain a little skeptical of any technology that promises to be the magic bullet that will save us all.

I'm not sure if this is a generalized comment or a continuing response to my comment, but if it's the latter then please note that I said GM is 'one of the better answers', which is a far cry from magic bullet.

I suspect the thing that has recently been discovered that will actually change our world noticable ie graphene. But maybe I'm just getting old and cynical and have lost the wonder at science that characterised my youth.

>.>

I'm not sure if you're aware, but molecular manipulation, stem cell research, nanotech and carbon-structure innovation are all facets of... science...  ::)

Offline mystictiger

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #22 on: November 01, 2010, 07:29:12 PM »
I am completely agree that Science! produces graphene. I'm just feeling a little sad that I'm basically getting excited about the stuff in lead pencils! I've seen the films and read the books - it's the year 2010. I want my cyberoptics and flying cars and space elevators!

Imagining Roman engineers having to apply for funding to develop bridges really made me laugh. I especially imagine one grumpy old senator at the end of the panel saying "Yes yes, but this underwater cement stuff of yours. What benefit will it really have?" The engineers then shrug and replies "Well. We can... cross water". To which the senator again replies "We heard the same pitch from Daedalus and Icarus! And the Laz0rs of Death from Archimedes! None of it really changed anything. What will you -really- do?" And so on.

To try and meander back topicwards, it seems that the demand for GM food production isn't driven by the people living in countries with food security issues but rather by big business.

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Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #23 on: November 01, 2010, 07:45:35 PM »
Ahahaha. "What will you -really- do? You're out to steal the souls of the fish, aren't you?"

Ahem.

I think it's important to distinguish between the crappy practices of some of the GM businesses - such as requiring the purchase of new seeds each year, and demanding to test farmers' fields on the off-chance that they might have a sprig of patented wheat in their fields - and the potential good of the process of GMing food* itself. For lack of a better comparison, it's like dismissing tobacco itself because of the practices of Big Tobacco. The parallel between them is not perfect, but say we developed a form of tobacco that minimized the occurrence of mutations in lung tissue. This would then lower the incidence of lung cancer from smoking that particular tobacco... but because we have such a long history of mistrusting Philip Morris and company, nobody would buy it.

I think that GM food is to biochemical research what space travel is to physics research. We have this awesome technology, and while there have been and will undoubtedly be mistakes, tragedies and setbacks... that doesn't necessarily mean that the technology is bad. Or that it shouldn't be improved upon and worked on.

*That phrase makes me picture a scientist standing over a kernel of corn. "Roll initiative, please."

Offline mystictiger

Re: US Government takes position against patenting genes.
« Reply #24 on: November 02, 2010, 06:03:51 AM »
I broadly agree with what you say. Unfortunately, unlike space travel, there are lots of companies with an interest in the production of drugs and therapies. Not because they want to treat things, but because they want to sell drugs. When research is driven and funded by such an agenda, any feeding-the-world type benefits will be ancillary to making a profit.

A straw poll of my friends doing postgrad and above research here suggests that the majority of them are either funded by the government to things with military applications, or by private investors.

There is only so much government money to go around. Investors want hard returns. Projects and approaches that can lead to cash-flow will always be preferred to those that don't. It's this kind of situation that fosters the desire to patent genes. I therefore see the desire to patent genes as a symptom of the way in which science is financed rather than a pathology in itself.