In a case considered pivotal to the future of science and medicine, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court seemed skeptical Monday about a claim that human genes can be patented.
Contending that genes can be patented are the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, which see patents as the keys to new scientific exploration. On the other side are doctors, patients and many scientists, who see gene patents as an attempt to monopolize and block future exploration in the new universe of genetics.
Same-sex marriage got huge headlines at the Supreme Court last month, but in the world of science and medicine, the case being argued on Monday is far more important. The lawsuit deals with a truly 21st century issue — whether human genes may be patented.
The man whose research led to the world's first test-tube baby more than three decades ago, has died at age 87.
Robert Edwards, who later won the Nobel Prize, began experimenting with in vitro fertilization, or IVF, in the late 1960s. His work, controversial at the time, eventually led to the birth of the world's first "test tube baby," Louise Brown, on July 25, 1978.
Since then, IVF has resulted in about 5 million babies worldwide, according to the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology.
The largest gene-probing study ever done has fished out dozens of new genetic markers that flag a person's susceptibility to breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.
The 74 newly discovered genetic variants double the previously known number for these malignancies, all of which are driven by sex hormones.
Underscoring the sheer magnitude of the findings, they're contained in 15 scientific papers published simultaneously by five different journals. The Nature group of journals has collected them all here.