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Thursday, June 13, 2013

United States Supreme Court Rules Genes Cannot be Patented

In a unanimous ruling today, the Supreme Court handed down a mixed decision for Myriad Genetics, which developed the first test for genes that correlate with increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad was arguing for its right to patent genes whose precise location and sequencing it has discovered. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court, “Myriad found the location of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, but that discovery, by itself, does not render the BRCA genes . . . patent eligible.”  The court ruled in Myriad’s favor on one major aspect of the case, however, agreeing that artificially recreated, or complimentary, DNA (cDNA) can be patented as intellectual property. The ruling could significantly decrease the cost of genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer, which is currently around $3,000 in part due to Myriad’s existing patent on these genes.

Politically Motivated Hacks in Iran on Eve of Election

The day before Iran’s presidential elections, Google announced that it has blocked a series of attempts to hack the e-mail accounts of tens of thousands of Iranians. The phishing campaigns are originating in Iran and their volume has surged dramatically over the previous three weeks. The timing and targeting of the campaigns strongly suggests a political connection to Iran’s election, although the party behind it remains unclear. While Google explained that it released this information because of a policy to alert users to “state-sponsored attacks and other suspicious activity,” it did not identify the perpetrators. The company did note that the hacks are by the same group behind a Gmail hacking campaign in 2011 involving fraudulent digital certificates. Iran’s youth make up a large percentage of the population, and could possibly even swing the election. The question is, how many will vote: Many are hopeful – even just to have President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leave – while others remain disillusioned with the government and the possibility of free elections.

Mugabe Unilaterally Sets Zimbabwe’s Election Day, Sparking Controversy

After four years of coalition government, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and its Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, look set to resume their bitter rivalry. The Constitutional Court’s deadline for the next elections is July 31st, but Tsvangirai has been pushing for key reforms as a condition of the election, stating that he does not believe fair elections could be held before August 25th. During his campaign against Mugabe in 2008, he dropped out of the race because his supporters were being targeted in a campaign of violence. Today, Mugabe announced that elections would be held on July 31st, using a presidential decree to bypass parliament. Zimbabwe’s parliament is still considering a drafted electoral law that would grant all political parties equal access to the state broadcaster, which is currently a mouthpiece for Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. Tsvangirai has asked the Constitutional Court to reconsider its deadline.

Repercussions Remain Unclear for Turkish Protesters

Despite warnings from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that protesters would be forcibly evicted, crowds grew in Gezi Park Thursday morning. Erdoğan has offered a referendum on the fate of the park on the condition that everyone return home.  The referendum would not be legally binding, although the prime minister implied he would honor its outcome. He then issued a “final warning” to the protesters, whom he described  as criminals and terrorists, stating “These cannot be called a struggle for freedom, struggle for rights.” The European Union passed a non-binding referendum today deploring the actions of the Turkish government, which Erdoğan dismissed as  ”immoral and misleading.” Merely a few hours after his inflammatory statements, however, he agreed to meet with a delegation from Gezi Park, who had been snubbed in his earlier meeting with protesters. It is not clear what will happen to the protesters if they stay in the park – or if a deal is not reached – but many are expecting another police attack tonight.

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