The nation’s highest court ruled today that your DNA belongs to you, and any corporate efforts to patent it are unconstitutional.
In a unanimous decision [PDF] the court held that naturally occurring human genes fall under the “law of nature” exception to the patent laws, invalidating a corporate patent on a human gene linked to breast cancer.
Jesse J. Holland of the Associated Press writes about the decision’s flip side, which will come as a significant encouragement to UC Berkeley’s crew of “bioengineers”:
[T]he high court also approved for the first time the patenting of synthetic DNA, handing a victory to researchers and companies looking to come up with ways to fight – and profit – from medical breakthroughs that could reverse life-threatening diseases such as breast or ovarian cancer.
The decision “sets a fair and level playing field for open and responsible use of genetic information,” said Dr. Robert B. Darnell, president and scientific director of the New York Genome Center. “At the same time, it does not preclude the opportunity for innovation in the genetic world, and should be seen as an important clarifying moment for research and the healthcare industry.”
The BBC reports more on the issues behind the litigation, sparked by a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union:
The genes at the centre of the lawsuit are linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad Genetics developed a pioneering test to look for mutations in those genes that might increase the risk of developing cancer.
Myriad, based in Salt Lake City, argued that the genes in question had been “isolated” by the company, making them products of human ingenuity and therefore patentable.
But the ACLU argued that genes are products of nature, and therefore cannot be patented under US laws.