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At Genetics Meeting, Collins Reportedly Faults Firm for Patenting Non-Coding DNA; Sequence the Kangaroo?

NEW YORK, July 8 - In his opening address Monday to the XIX International Congress of Genetics in Melbourne, Australia, NHGRI director Francis Collins reportedly attacked an Australian firm that patented non-coding DNA.


Collins said that the firm, Genetic Technologies, had broken with a scientific tradition to provide free access to patented materials to academics conducting basic research, the Sydney Morning Herald reported today. Genetic Technologies charges research institutes $1000 to use its technology and information related to non-coding DNA, the report said.


These remarks come less than two weeks after the US Supreme Court refused to hear a case in which a former Duke University professor sued the University for allegedly violating patents on laser equipment he invented by allowing researchers in the lab he left to continue using the laser. The suit is regarded by some as a test case on the continued validity of the commonly held view that academic researchers can use patented inventions without a license as long as it is for research use, and the Supreme Court's remanding of the case to lower Federal court allows the case to go forward.


Collins also said that the International HapMap project planned to restrict access to the Haplotype database to only those companies that agreed to allow academic researchers to use information that the firms had obtained through use of the database, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.


The Congress, which had the subtitle "Genomes: The Linkage to Life," drew nearly 3,000 delegates including the usual collection of life sciences luminaries to the city's shores: Collins shared top billing with 2002 Nobel Prize winner Sydney Brenner, as well as David Botstein, the new director of the Lewis-Sigler Center for Integrative Genomics at Princeton, who was awarded the $150,000 Genetics Prize at the conference.


Among Monday's slate of speakers was native Australian Richard Gibbs, of the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center, who discussed how his lab is gearing up to do large-scale genotyping for the International HapMap project, through developing, among other things, a new software approach for whole genome assembly.


Gane Ka-Shu Wong of the University of Washington Genome Center also presented results of a whole genome comparison of japonica and indica rice genomes that enabled identification of SNPs. They found that the rate of SNPs varied throughout the genomes, with some areas having as many as six SNPs per kb and other stretches being "SNP deserts," with a few megabases containing no SNPs at all. Wong said these desert areas are evidence of adaptive selection in these areas. "This result has wide implications, since it is believed that much the same genes are involved in all domesticated crops," Wong wrote in an abstract of the talk.


On Tuesday, Yoshihide Hayashizaki of the RIKEN genome Exploration Research Group discussed his group's work to assemble the two-million cDNA clone Riken mouse genome encyclopedia that has 33,409 unique sequences and over 18,415 defined protein-coding genes.   He also suggested that DNA clones or PCR products be distributed through a method he called the "DNA book," in which these chemicals would be printed directly onto pages of water-soluble paper, and bound into books.


The 1,400 speakers at the congress this week are scheduled to address topics ranging from comparative farm animal genomics to honey bee sociogenomics, to a talk entitled "Sex, Genes, and Chromosomes - and Weird Australian Animals."


In this latter address, to be given Thursday, Jennifer Marshall Graves of the Australian National University in Canberra is planning to announce the kick-off (or perhaps, hop-off), of the Center of Kangaroo Genomics, according to Australian press reports. The center is planning to lobby the NIH for $80 million so it can sequence the Kangaroo's genome, Australian newspaper The Age reported today. The species of kangaroo that Graves' group wants to sequence, the report said, is the tammar wallaby.

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