Human Genes Protected from Patent Infringements

Petri dish

Humans received some good news from the Supreme Court last week when a unanimous vote ruled that human genes cannot be patented.

“We hold that a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated,” Justice Thomas wrote in the court’s decision.

The decision came as a result of efforts by a company called Myriad Genetics Inc., and efforts to patent genes used in an early detection breast and ovarian cancer test. The genes, BRAC1 and BRAC2, were isolated by the company, but are not “an invention,” according to the court. That distinction precludes Myriad from patenting the genes, the justices ruled, which should bring down the cost of the test and prevent countless deaths as a result of breast and ovarian cancer.

Actress Angelina Jolie recently put the value of the test on the radar when she announced her decision to have a double mastectomy after testing positive for a defective BRAC1 gene. Her mother died from ovarian cancer.

The Huffington Post reports that 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.”

In a small victory, the court’s decision does not prevent Myriad Genetics or other biotech companies from patenting synthetically-created DNA, however.  Known as cDNA, the justices said this type of DNA can receive patents because it is not naturally occurring.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.