U.S. District Court: Genes may not be patented

A federal court ruling in New York that genes may not be patented, if ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, could irreparably harm the behemoth biotechnology industry that relies on patents to protect the results of its costly research.

The decision in Association for Molecular Pathology vs. United States Patent and Trademark Office comes in the wake of 40,000 patents already issued on 20 percent of all human genes.

The case didn’t go to trial: A summary judgment for the plaintiffs was granted on the gene patents at issue.

The knee-jerk reaction might be to say it’s good the case was decided before the villain who wants to own the very material that determines what we are could have its day in court. It seems almost intuitive that our genes should not be owned by anyone other than ourselves.

It’s not that simple.

The plaintiffs, the Association for Molecular Pathology, a not-for-profit genomics research advancement society, several medical colleges, doctors and patients sued Myriad Genetics, a biopharmaceutical company in a multibillion-dollar industry and associated with the University of Utah Research Park in Salt Lake City and the directors of the University of Utah Research Foundation…

Research scientists and physicians say they are frustrated because they can’t do further research on the genes or on other genes where the BRCA-related DNA may be intertwined: Myriad slaps them with cease-and-desist orders.

Further, some of their patients (of whom the women named as plaintiffs are examples) whose insurance doesn’t cover the test, can’t have the test done because of its cost: $3,200. Many doctors say they can have a simple blood test done for $300…

The trial court found for the plaintiffs primarily on the basis the isolated DNA is not “markedly different” from a product of nature.

The district court declined to speak on the constitutional issues, following the established rule that courts should not reach unnecessary constitutional decisions, leaving the constitutional issue open to future litigation.

This surely does look like it will go to the Supreme Court.

It might not have happened had the U.S. Patent Office stayed current with science and technology. Knee-jerk granting of anything called patentable by corporate lawyers has led the office into a morass of absurd claims and counter-claims.

So, we will probably get a half-way decision from the Supreme Court – before the issue is dumped into the laps of those stellar guardians of the science and commerce – Congress.

Dynamic, rapid evolution alters experiment! WTF?

When the forces of evolution took over an experimental strain of bacteria, it derailed an experiment Duke and NC State researchers thought they were conducting, but led to something much more profound instead.

The researchers used a colony of mice raised in a large plastic bubble, called an isolator, that was completely sterile, lacking even a single bacterium. They introduced a single type of bacteria into the mouse colony, but it mutated quickly into different types, making new bacteria that were hardier inside of the mice than the original bacterium was.

In some regards, “this is one of the best demonstrations of evolution ever carried out in a laboratory,” said William Parker, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Duke Department of Surgery. “This is the first time the evolution of bacteria has been monitored for a period of years in an incredibly complex environment.”

Parker said the work illustrates the power of evolution in creating diversity and in filling ecological niches. “This study also strengthens the idea that we could harness evolution in the laboratory to develop microbes for use in biotechnology and in medicine,” Parker said.

The results…indicate that “experimental evolution,” or evolution controlled in a laboratory setting, could be used to develop new strains of bacteria for use as probiotic substances, which are living organisms used for intestinal and digestive therapies…

Over the three-year study period, the bacterial population remained diverse and appeared to adapt significantly well to the environment in the digestive tracts of the mice. “The bacteria colonized better in the mice by the end of the experiment than at the beginning,” Parker said, with more than a three-fold increase in the density of bacteria within the gut by the end of the experiment.

Wow. Most researchers are flexible enough to perceive unexpected results for what they are, where they may lead.

Still – it’s rewarding to see how this group let their experiment carry through on its own – adding to evolutionary knowledge at the same time.

Japan’s Prime Minister bows to Obama on Okinawa

Daylife/ AP Photo used by permission

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Sunday apologised for breaking his election pledge to move an unpopular U.S. military base off Okinawa, also receiving a public dressing-down from local officials.

Mr. Hatoyama’s initial plan had caused friction with close ally Washington and his perceived dithering on the issue since — followed by his U-turn — has badly hurt his approval ratings.

During his visit to the southern island on Sunday, Mr. Hatoyama faced angry protests by residents who had hoped to see the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station moved entirely off Okinawa, instead of relocated to a less built-up part.

Okinawa, which hosts more than half the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan, has long sought to remove the bases, which are locally unpopular mainly because of noise, pollution and the risk of accidents and crimes.

I apologise to people in Okinawa as I could not keep to my word that I’ll relocate the base off the prefecture,” said Mr. Hatoyama in a meeting with Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima, shown on television…

Hundreds of people protested outside the prefecture building, holding banners saying “We are angry” and some chanting “Hatoyama go home!…”

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama had urged Mr. Hatoyama to stay with the original pact, arguing a strong U.S military presence is crucial for the defence of Japan and stability in the wider Asia-Pacific region.

I have to wonder what the quid pro quo was for this one? Taking back Okinawa was a central issue in getting Hatoyama elected and resentment will not be limited solely to folks on Okinawa. He sold out the Japanese nation on this one.

Using the same old Cold War excuses doesn’t cut it outside of Congress and teabaggers.

UPDATE: Hirokazu re-elected on pledge to veto US base plans.

Arizona’s smoking ban reduced secondhand smoking ailments

Since the 2007 state law took effect, admissions for ailments related to secondhand smoke have declined by as much as 33 percent.

Two University of Arizona researchers have studied the relationship between Arizona’s 2007 law that bans smoking in public places and hospitalization rates for a range of ailments related to secondhand smoke exposure.

Their results: Admissions for acute myocardial infarction or AMI, stroke, asthma and angina decreased following the implementation of the ban…

To control for other reasons why hospital admissions change over time, they compared admissions for those primary diagnoses before and after May 1, 2007 – the start date of the smoking ban – to admissions for four diagnoses not associated with secondhand smoke: appendicitis, kidney stones, acute cholecystitis and ulcers.

They also compared admissions in Arizona counties with preexisting county or municipal smoking bans – which would be expected to show little effect from the statewide ban – to counties with no previous bans.

Their results showed statistically significant reductions in hospital admissions of 13 percent for AMI, 33 percent for unstable angina, 14 percent for acute stroke and 22 percent for asthma in counties with no previous bans over what was seen in counties with previous bans.

Dimwits from the Church of Self-Righteous Skeptics will ignore the study, the science, the rights of others and continue their battle to smoke anywhere they damned well please.

Arkansas coppers killed by right-wing militia thugs

Amerika’s sovereign state patriots

Two suspects accused of gunning down Arkansas police officers this week may have ties to extremist anti-government groups, two civil rights organizations say.

Jerry R. Kane, 45, and his 16-year-old son Joseph Kane fatally shot two police officers and wounded two others during a wild shootout Thursday, according to Arkansas state police.

The Anti-Defamation League said the two suspects belonged to “an extreme right-wing movement that believes that virtually all existing government in the United States is illegitimate and which seeks to restore an idealized, minimalist government that never actually existed.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization, also said the two member are part of the “sovereign citizen” movement…

The incident began at 11:36 a.m. (12:36 p.m. ET) Thursday, when West Memphis patrolman Bill Evans made a traffic stop on a white minivan traveling eastbound on I-40 , said Bill Sadler, spokesman for the Arkansas state police.

After the vehicle exited the Interstate onto an off-ramp, Sgt. Brandon Paudert arrived on the scene as backup, Sadler said.

“It is our belief that Officer Evans was shoved to the ground by one of the suspects in the minivan and gunfire was directed at both officers,” Sadler said…

About 90 minutes later, a minivan believed to be the one that had been seen leaving the shooting site was spotted in a parking lot of a nearby Wal-Mart, Sadler said.

There, it was approached by Crittenden County Sheriff Dick Busby and Chief Enforcement Officer W.A. Wren, who were traveling in the same vehicle, he said.

Both men were wounded in a gunbattle initiated by the suspects, who were using a long rifle and a handgun, Sadler said.

The gunbattle ended after “a very brave, young wildlife officer in his state truck rammed the suspect vehicle, preventing an exit of the suspects,” who were then killed, Sadler said.

If you’re interested in the course of dementia of someone who moves down the yellow brick road of super patriotism and anarchy characteristic of sovereign state nutballs, read this article from the Kanes’ home town newspaper. This is probably your first visit to the paper and they’ll ask for an instant survey or registration – but, I’d recommend it to RTFA.

True Believers who start from religious fundamentalism or ardent nationalism are often candidates for taking their obsession beyond neurosis. And the first to deny that anything like the murder of these two police officers could ever enter their mind. Or what passes for a mind.

Amateurs on Earth keep an eye on Spy in the sky

A team of amateur sky watchers has pierced the veil of secrecy surrounding the debut flight of the nation’s first robotic spaceplane, finding clues that suggest the military craft is engaged in the development of spy satellites rather than space weapons, which some experts have suspected but the Pentagon strongly denies.

Last month, the unmanned successor to the space shuttle blasted off from Florida on its debut mission but attracted little public notice because no one knew where it was going or what it was doing. The spaceship, known as the X-37B, was shrouded in operational secrecy, even as civilian specialists reported that it might go on mysterious errands for as long as nine months before zooming back to earth and touching down on a California runway…

Now, the amateur sky watchers have succeeded in tracking the stealthy object for the first time and uncovering clues that could back up the surveillance theory. Ted Molczan, a team member in Toronto, said the military spacecraft was passing over the same region on the ground once every four days, a pattern he called “a common feature of U.S. imaging reconnaissance satellites.”

In six sightings, the team has found that the craft orbits as far north as 40 degrees latitude, just below New York City. In theory, on a clear night, an observer in the suburbs might see the X-37B as a bright star moving across the southern sky…

Mr. Molczan said team members in Canada and South Africa made independent observations of the X-37B on Thursday and, as it turned out, caught an earlier glimpse of the orbiting spaceship late last month from the United States. Weeks of sky surveys paid off when the team members Kevin Fetter and Greg Roberts managed to observe the craft from Brockville, Ontario, and Cape Town.

Mr. Molczan said the X-37B was orbiting about 255 miles up — standard for a space shuttle — and circling the planet once every 90 minutes or so…

The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office leads the X-37B program for what it calls the “development and fielding of select Defense Department combat support and weapons systems…”

Brian Weedon of the Secure World Foundation…questioned the current mission’s secrecy.

“If a bunch of amateurs can find it,” Mr. Weedon said, “so can our adversaries.”


Darwin Award for the weekend

One person died when a pipe bomb exploded outside a nightclub in West Virginia early Saturday morning.

The incident, which took place at Cactus Joe’s in Barboursville in the southwestern part of the state, occurred around 2:30 a.m.

“We have an individual that brought explosive devices outside of the business. One of the devices detonated, proving fatal for the individual,” Cabell County Sheriff Tom McComas said. “I don’t know an exact age of the victim. We’re still in the infancy of this investigation…”

Angie Ferguson, assistant supervisor of Cabell County 911, said authorities found another pipe bomb that had not been detonated. She said there were no other casualties from the incident…

“It would be imprudent for me to speculate at this point if the bombing was an act of terror,” McComas said, adding “it was strange activity” for the working-class town, which sits eight miles east of Huntington…

Police were examining a sport utility vehicle the victim was believed to have driven to the club, McComas said…

Ferguson called the blast an “isolated incident” and said it was unlikely that the explosion was related to terrorism. “We don’t have much of that here.”

“Co-owner of Cactus Joe’s, Kathy McComas, says that the man responsible was banned from her bar, because he came there to stalk his ex-wife..”

Sounds about right.