Tag: "genetics"

The Other Side of the Gene Patent Debate

[B]eneath the court’s formalist decision lies an attempt to reconcile the ethical principle that natural phenomena can’t be patented with the economic reality of the contemporary U.S. We increasingly rely on the products of intellectual property to produce goods that the rest of the world might want to buy. If there were no patent available for gene identification, it would significantly reduce the incentive of big pharmaceutical companies to go after the basic science needed to identify genes and, potentially, create treatments for the diseases that those genes might cause. The Supreme Court cut the genetic baby in half in the hopes of preserving that incentive.

The devil, as usual, lies in the details. Those details strongly suggest that the court’s distinction rests on very shaky scientific grounds — and can be explained more by political economy than by logic. (Noah Feldman/Bloomberg)

Surprise: Men and Women are Different

Women have hormonal cycles, smaller organs, higher body fat composition — all of which are thought to play a role in how drugs affect our bodies. We also have basic differences in gene expression, which can make differences in the way we metabolize drugs. For example, men metabolize caffeine more quickly, while women metabolize certain antibiotics and anxiety medications more quickly. In some cases, drugs work less effectively depending on sex; women are less responsive to anesthesia and ibuprofen for instance. In other cases, women are at more risk for adverse — even lethal — side effects.

Source: The New York Times.

Lack of Sleep Affects Genes, and Other Links

I Was Surprised by this Chart

At Least Sometimes Politicians Are Rational

There’s a federal law that’s supposed to protect people from having their own genes used against them, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA. Under GINA, it’s illegal for an employer to fire someone based on his genes, and it’s illegal for health insurers to raise rates or to deny coverage because of someone’s genetic code. But the law has a loophole: It only applies to health insurance. It doesn’t say anything about companies that sell life insurance, disability insurance or long-term-care insurance.

Source: NPR.

Synthetic Biology

Someday we may be able to create microbial (and possibly human) cells that are resistant to viruses and to bring extinct species like the woolly mammoth back to life. We could expand the human life span, increase our intelligence and enhance our ability to survive long space journeys.

More on these scientific applications in the WSJ.

Catch 22

Sometimes the findings indicate that unexpected treatments might help. In a newly published federal study of 224 gene sequences of colon cancers, for example, researchers found genetic changes in 5 percent that were the same as changes in breast cancer patients whose prognosis is drastically improved with a drug, Herceptin. About 15 percent had a particular gene mutation that is common in melanoma. Once again, there is a drug, approved for melanoma, that might help. But under the rules of the study, none of the research subjects could ever know.

You agree to allow researchers to study your tissue sample. They agree to never contact you again. So they don’t.

What?

Genes Matter

When identical twins are raised apart, you can disentangle nature and nurture for a given characteristic by simply measuring how similar the twins are…Ms. Segal emphasizes the uniformity of the results — the consistent power of genes, the limited influence of parenting…Genes, but not upbringing, have a pretty big effect on personality traits like ambition, optimism, aggression and traditionalism. Other findings perennially cause outrage: The IQs of separated identical twins are almost as similar as their heights.

More from Bryan Caplan in the Wall Street Journal. But see Matt Ridley: Genes determine IQ if you are rich. Environment is more important if you are poor.

Marriage by Contract

This is Gary Becker, writing at the Becker-Posner blog.

I have argued several times previously that all “marriages” should be basically contractual arrangements between couples, whether heterosexual or homosexual. These couple-specific contracts would specify the duties of each member, including the conditions needed to terminate their arrangement, so that couples rather than laws and judges would determine the conditions under which they stay together or breakup. These contracts would be tailored to the special needs of each couple, and could even be made compulsory in order to take away any information revealed when a person asks his or her mate for a contract…

If such contracted civil unions became the norm, homosexual unions would not be any different than heterosexual unions. If civil unions obtained all the rights of marriage unions, then the issue of gay “marriage” would turn only on language, although it is emotionally charged language on both sides of the debate.

Posner’s view on homosexual marriage at the Becker-Posner blog.

Manipulating The Mind

The electrodes were implanted into the song-generating region of the brain, and he could control them with a wireless remote. When he pressed a button, a bird singing in a cage across the lab would fall silent. Press again, and it would resume its song.

Entire press from The Wall Street Journal worth reading.