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Misunderstanding gene patents

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Via Amit Varma’s India Uncut, came accross this article by Michael Crichton in the NYT. Crichton says,

[T]he human genome exists in every one of us, and is therefore our shared heritage and an undoubted fact of nature. Nevertheless 20 percent of the genome is now privately owned. The gene for diabetes is owned, and its owner has something to say about any research you do, and what it will cost you. The entire genome of the hepatitis C virus is owned by a biotech company. Royalty costs now influence the direction of research in basic diseases, and often even the testing for diseases. Such barriers to medical testing and research are not in the public interest. Do you want to be told by your doctor, “Oh, nobody studies your disease any more because the owner of the gene/enzyme/correlation has made it too expensive to do research?”

Now, there can be much debate and there certainly exists grey areas in the field of gene patenting; but, whether intentional or not, Crichton is over-simplifying the issue in this article. No one can hold patents for your ‘natural’ genes (especially your own one which would be unique) – patents are usually granted only for the pure form of a particular gene. The gene has to be isolated (technical term: cloned) from our chromosome, be available in a test-tube and should be able to do something useful (e.g. produce the relevant protein when put into a bacteria) for a patent to be granted. The simple act of dicovery that a particular sequence of genetic material does something (e.g. cause a disease or cause the color of your eyes) will generally not be validated as a patent, at least by the United States PTO. Companies invest considerable money and time in the isolation step and therefore it is really within their right to recover the cost by patenting both the process and the final gene product.
Couple of articles dealing with this issue can be found here and here.

BTW, Amit, in his usual pithy style also says thanks for the little mercies:

And no, no one owns a patent on bad puns.

He would otherwise be paying through his nose for these . 😉

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

March 20, 2006 at 9:24 am

Serendipity strikes again !

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As is well-known, many of the major discoveries in science have been serendipitous – most famously Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin.

A group in Britain has shown that forgeries of paper documents, plastic cards etc can be detected by using a simple laser scanner. The method, published in the latest edition of Nature, takes advantage of the fact that almost all documents ‘contain a unique physical identity code formed from microscopic imperfections in the surface’. This fingerprint can be read by using the phenomenon of laser speckle (in lay terms, scattering of laser light from a surface) with an appropriate scanner. The biggest cost-saving from this technology would be not having to impart an external security tag such a hologram, watermarks, microchip etc. to important documents, currencies, credit cards etc.
So why the title ? As this report on NPR Morning Edition mentions, the researchers were actually scanning a new security chip they had developed, which fell off, exposing the paper underneath it to the laser. To their surprise they found a signal coming from the paper – further investigation led to the discovery that each piece of paper has its own unique ‘roughness’ and hence an unique signal !

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

July 29, 2005 at 9:57 am

The cult of the Mac….

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Interesting story from BBC about how Apple’s product-line (epecially iPod) has almost spawned a new religion.While, I am not about to perform an aarti on my iPod, I have to admit that it is a very good product and it came in a goovily packed black cube-shaped box (it looks so good that I haven’t been able to throw it away – even when I moved). However, this is yet to happen to me:

During his regular evening walk, software executive Steve Crandall often nods a polite greeting to other iPod users he passes: He easily spots the distinctive white earbuds threaded from pocket to ears.

But while quietly enjoying some chamber music one evening in August, Crandall’s polite nodding protocol was rudely shattered.

Crandall was boldly approached by another iPod user, a 30ish woman bopping enthusiastically to some high-energy tune.

“She walked right up to me and got within my comfort field,” Crandall stammered. “I was taken aback. She pulled out the earbuds on her iPod and indicated the jack with her eyes.”

Warily unplugging his own earbuds, Crandall gingerly plugged them into the woman’s iPod, and was greeted by a rush of techno.

“We listened for about 30 seconds,” Crandall said. “No words were exchanged. We nodded and walked off.”

This blog refers to it and late last year there was a story on NY-Post how an Apple store in Manhattan are replacing bars as dating and pick-up joints:

“People in here glance at each other just like they do in a bar,” Frederick Pina, a writer and Apple Store regular, told the New York Post. “It’s not a problem to open a conversation because you know everyone has similar interests.” Actress Nina Rutsch agreed. “When you’re checking your e-mail online, you’re really near your neighbor, so its an easy place to strike up conversation,” she said. “And if you talk to a guy in the Apple Store, you already know he’s going to be modern and up-to-date and sober. It’s healthier than picking up someone in a bar.”

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

April 21, 2005 at 10:50 am

Attack of the Nerds II

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The hackers from MIT strike – not against Caltech in retaliation – but to make a point about worthless scientific conferences.

….the graduate students involved were sick and tired of receiving computer generated spam soliciting entries to what they felt were questionable academic conferences.

Jeremy Stribling, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said yesterday that he and two fellow MIT graduate students questioned the standards of some academic conferences, so they wrote a computer program to generate research papers complete with nonsensical text, charts and diagrams.

(Blogger News Network)

Scientific conference spams ?? – you better beleive it – I keep receiveing about 2-3 such invitations every week to Biotech related conferences. Read more about it here.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

April 16, 2005 at 4:32 pm

Posted in Fun, Tech, Gadgets etc.

Pre-emptive searches from Google

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Yet another tool (in its beta form of course) from the Google stable – Google Suggest. Similar to a Google search – but a drop-down menu of suggested terms appear as you start typing. Found this via Gizmodo.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

February 1, 2005 at 10:47 pm

Posted in Tech, Gadgets etc.

Gmail and Google Desktop

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Finally got my Gmail invite, courtesy of SFX, who are promoting the Mozilla Firefox browser. The invite was in response to placing a Firefox banner on my web-site. For those who have been living in a cave for the past year – Gmail is Google’s new e-mail service – launched earlier this year with an awesome 1GB storage space (“never ever having to delete you e-mail” !!). But the service is at the beta stage, so you can get an account only if you are invited. I beleive initial invitations were given out to regular bloggers @ Bolgspot. Those using the e-mail service in turn got a chance to send out invitations. This has, of course, created a cyberspace class-division of the g-mail haves and have nots. G-mail invites have been a hot commodity and have been bartered (there is web-site dedicated to gmail swapping), ‘e-bay’-ed or given away in promotions (as in my case). A look at this site will show how desperate some people are for an invite (one guys needs it to impress his girlfriend). Of course all this buzz is really great for Google (as if they needed any more publicity).
Anyway, there is the privacy issue with respect to G-mail. In very lay terms, Google is going to scan every incoming and outgoing mail for the message ‘context’ and delivers ads based on that. Privacy and civil rights groups are of course outraged. But there are others who are not so worried.
I have not made up my mind yet. To some extent, simply knowing how hyper the privacy and civil liberty unions are and how they often have knee-jerk reactions, perhaps the issue is kind of overblown (some more thoughts on that here). I would not really want someone out there to be building a ‘profile’ of myself based on what I am writing in private mails – but the question is whether Google is making up such profiles. Google says ‘no’ – but privacy groups are contending that there is nothing to stop Google from doing so in the future. Either way, gmail is not going to be my main e-mail right away – so I will just wait and watch.My other google related activity yesterday was to download the Google desktop. This is a search engine that will run on your desktop and can search keywords in your computer within files (Words, Power Point, Excel.), mails, cached web-pages etc. Unfortunately, the web and e-mail search features work only with IE and Outlook programs and not Firefox and Thunderbird. But people are trying to get google to add this feature. If you are a Firefox or Thuunderbird user – send in your request. So far, I have not really needed to use the search program – but I have tried out some obscure words and they returned resonable searches.
Beware though, the program requires a whopping 1GB storage !!

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

October 19, 2004 at 10:06 am

Posted in Tech, Gadgets etc.


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Seems like I am destined to just miss out on the latest cool gagdet !! Last year, I purchased my DELL just a few months too early and missed out on Centrino.
When Soma gave me the 40GB Click-wheel iPod, a month ago, I had the absoluetly latest ‘thing’. Not for long as it turns out:
Think Secret – EXCLUSIVE: 60GB iPod to pack photo-viewing features

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

October 12, 2004 at 10:51 am

Posted in Tech, Gadgets etc.