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June 13, 2013

Supreme Court unanimously rules that naturally occurring genes may not be patented

Supreme Court Rules Human Genes May Not Be Patented - NYTimes.com
WASHINGTON — Isolated human genes may not be patented, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday. The case concerned patents held by Myriad Genetics, a Utah company, on genes that correlate with increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. The patents were challenged by scientists and doctors who said their research and ability to help patients had been frustrated. The particular genes at issue received public attention after the actress Angelina Jolie revealed in May that she had had a preventive double mastectomy after learning that she had inherited a faulty copy of a gene that put her at high risk for breast cancer. The price of the test, often more than $3,000, was partly a product of Myriad’s patent, putting it out of reach for some women. The company filed patent infringement suits against others who conducted testing based on the gene. The price of the test "should come down significantly," said Dr. Harry Ostrer, one of the plaintiffs in the case decided Thursday. The ruling, he said, “will have an immediate impact on people’s health.” The court’s ruling will also shape the course of scientific research and medical testing in other fields, and it may alter the willingness of businesses to invest in the expensive work of isolating and understanding genetic material. . . .

This wet winter has killed off a third of the bees in the UK

Third of all UK honeybee hives wiped out in wet winter - environment - 13 June 2013 - New Scientist
This lonely bee will be buzzing solo after British honeybees suffered their worst winter losses since records began in 2007. The British Beekeepers Association says that a third of all the country's honeybee colonies were lost in the winter of 2012/13 – more than double the attrition suffered the previous winter. The erosion of the bee population was due to wet weather and a late spring, leading to a shortage of pollen. Things were already bad for these essential insects, as they are dying off in horrifying numbers around the world, with neonicotinoid pesticides and mystery viruses or fungi causing colonies to collapse.

June 11, 2013

New research suggests lead poisoning may cause schizophrenia

Lead Exposure Shown to Trigger Schizophrenia | Environment News Service
NEW YORK, New York, June 5, 2013 (ENS) – For the first time, an experiment on animals shows that exposure to the environmental toxin lead could cause people to develop the severe mental disorder schizophrenia. Scientists at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine engineered mice with a human gene for schizophrenia and exposed them to lead early in their lives. The mice showed behaviors and structural changes in their brains consistent with schizophrenia. Their findings appear online in the current issue of the journal “Schizophrenia Bulletin” in an article entitled, “Chronic Exposure of Mutant DISC1 Mice to Lead Produces Sex-Dependent Abnormalities Consistent With Schizophrenia and Related Mental Disorders: A Gene-Environment Interaction Study.”

June 04, 2013

Exxon swears that covering a town in oil and industrial solvents isn't bad for your health

But try telling that to *these* people. Oil Pollution in Arkansas - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money
On March 29, an ExxonMobil pipeline carrying oil from Canadian tar sands ruptured in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, northwest of Little Rock. Between 5000 and 7000 barrels of oil spilled into nearby waterways. ExxonMobil and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality claim everything is safe for residents. But the residents’ own bodies tell them this is not true: “I could smell that horrible smell. I got really scared,”says Sherry Appleman, who awoke to a nightmare on March 29. As the Exxon Tar Sands oil flowed through their town, residents of Mayflower reported strong odors that lead to headaches and vomiting in areas that Exxon deemed safe and not in need of evacuation. Some of residents, like Scott Crowe, were deemed safe to remain in their homes where a mere 300 yards from the rupture site. They say they haven’t heard from city officials or Exxon, but have experienced headaches, stomach pains, nausea, fainting, and have been prescribed inhalers for the first time. Ann Jarrell reports that she stayed at home with her daughter and a 3 month old grandchild despite the smells because they were told they didn’t need to evacuate and were safe. Ann Jarrell is a beekeeper and found dead, oil-soaked bees on her porch. The state plant board agreed to evacuate her bees to a safe location, but deemed the situation safe enough for Jarell’s family. They later learned it was likely they’d been exposed to toxic chemical fumes, and are now suffering from breathing problems and have been placed on inhalers. A local elementary school outside the evacuation zone had to send home eight students who became ill after breathing petrochemical fumes. Although Exxon had determined the air around the school safe, residents, including school officials, reported strong odors of oil in and around the building. These are just a handful of disturbing examples of illness in Mayflower after the oil spill. One Mayflower resident, despite being able to see the leak from her home, was told by Exxon that residents were merely suffering allergies. Some of the residents affected by the spill have filed a class action lawsuit.