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The Right Question?

The US Supreme Court today is hearing arguments in the Association for Molecular Pathology et al. vs. Myriad Genetics gene patenting case, bringing up the question of whether genes, particularly isolated genes, may be patented. The question the court has to consider, New York University law professor Rochelle Dreyfuss tells NPR is: "Is the thing that's isolated significantly different from the way that it was when it was in nature?" Products of nature cannot be patented.

The New York Times asks, though, whether that question is outdated. "Another question could trump it: Has the field of genetics moved so far so fast that whatever the court decides, it has come too late to the issue?" writes Andrew Pollack at the Times. He adds that whole-genome sequencing may not infringe on single, isolated gene patents and that cancer centers with such technologies are sequencing cancer genes to help determine the best treatments for patients.

"Events on the ground have overtaken the law," James Evans, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tells the Times. He adds that decision "will be much more ideological than it will be practical."