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Second Opinion

Proto readers question the necessity of gene patents and discuss a return to psychedelic research.

Winter 2011
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Fall 10 Cover

Patently Unnecessary

It is difficult to defend gene patenting on logical grounds (“Should Genes Be Patented?” Fall 2010). If we cannot patent gold, sunshine or an ordinary mouse, how can we sanction the patenting of naturally occurring genes? One is perfectly free to patent a new method for purifying gold, a new way of capturing sunshine or a new kind of mouse. Just so, if one modifies a gene in such a way that makes it novel, it is reasonable to expect patent protection for such an invention. But merely isolating a naturally occurring gene or distilling its naturally occurring information—no matter how difficult, ingenious or useful—renders the gene no more patentable than would be gold should I invent a new method for its purification (the method, yes, but not the mineral).

Whole genome sequencing is about to become a practical reality. Yet the potential for patent problems is real and could dramatically dampen our ability to harness this emerging technology to “promote the progress of science and useful arts,” as laid out in the U.S. Constitution. Inappropriately granted patents can suffocate innovation just as surely as thoughtfully granted patents can stimulate it. By eliminating patent protection of naturally occurring genes, we unleash human ingenuity to the benefit of all.

James P. Evans // Bryson Distinguished Professor of Genetics and Medicine, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Return Trip

“A Trip to Therapy” (Fall 2010) offers further evidence that the media are finally loosening their grasp of the 1960s mentality that marginalized hallucinogens for more than four decades. As the Proto article details, scientists have employed a psychedelic known as psilocybin to alleviate the anxiety and depression that often accompany terminal cancer. I hope that these studies are the first of many that will examine the value of psychedelics in treating a wide range of afflictions, including eating disorders and addiction, in which current therapies either are lacking or are not nearly robust enough. If the current clinical studies have positive outcomes, we are likely to see more attention focused on these fascinating substances and, even more important, more funding.

David E. Nichols // Robert C. and Charlotte P. Anderson Distinguished Chair in Pharmacology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.

Weighed down by negative preconceptions, science has continually avoided investigating psychoactive substances. Associated primarily with the ’60s counterculture and the music it spawned, psychedelics were widely considered to be of no value.

Attempting to break this taboo, I created the Beckley Foundation in 1998. As a consequence of our work and that of a number of others, the field is slowly awakening from its decades-long moratorium. Just one of many applications we’re exploring is the use of psychedelics to modify consciousness in a reliable and effective way, allowing us to correlate profound changes in experience with changes in neurophysiology. This, combined with the advances in brain imaging over the past 35 years, allows us to gain unprecedented insights into the mechanisms underlying consciousness.

Amanda Feilding // The Beckley Foundation, Oxford, England

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