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We Know We Shouldn’t, But Can We Genetically Modify Geniuses?

And don't try to argue that we should. I had to sit through Baby Geniuses. Never again.

Don't worry, friends, no one's going to start recreating Gattaca. But there is a team of scientists working on research for something called the Cognitive Genome Project, which seeks to explain the genetic markers for intelligence. How successful could they be? AsapSCIENCE and special guest Jake from Vsauce3 explain the basics.

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Supreme Court Declares Victory for Common Sense, Denies Patents for Naturally Occurring Human Genes

Identifying a gene is not the same as inventing, says a Supreme Court that can barely keep from rolling its eyes.

The U.S. Supreme Court has handed down some truly weird and sometimes downright awful decisions recently -- the "corporations have civil rights just like people do" debacle springs to mind -- but it's good to know that they don't always go against the individual while reviewing important cases. In a unanimous decision today, the Supreme Court ruled that naturally occurring human genes may not be patented, ending a dispute over intellectual property of genes that are used to detect early signs of certain cancers. So now we can all find out our cancer risk without having to pay exorbitant fees! You know, other than the ones we'd have to pay to address those risks. Those fees are still pretty exorbitant.

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Jurassic Park: Scientists Find Genetic Switch That Determines Gender

Remember that scene in Jurassic Park where the scientist is explaining to Ian Malcolm that all the dinosaurs on the island are female because they deprive them of a specific hormone at a specific moment? Science may have just found that hormone and that moment. A team of scientists have found the protein that kicks off the development of male sex organs in mice. It could even explain why the female dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were able to breed.

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All-Female Species Survives by Stealing DNA of Other Animals

When a class of animal is made up of only one gender, those animals tend to go extinct. That's not the case with the bdelloid rotifers, which have been exclusively female for around 80 million years. Just like we learned in Jurassic Park, life finds a way. For the bdelloids, that way is by hijacking the DNA of other species for its own benefit. Clever girl.

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Better, Faster, Stronger: Evolution of New Genes Seen in Lab for First Time

An international team of scientists has achieved one of the holy grails of evolutionary biology, documenting the creation of new genes in a living organism for the first time. After introducing a gene engineered to be beneficial to protein synthesis into the DNA of salmonella bacteria in their labs, researchers from the University of California Davis and Sweden's Upsalla University have shown that strength in numbers may be the secret to success for mutant genes that stick around and become evolved traits of an organism.

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Study: Human Immune System Boosted by Breeding With Neanderthals

New research suggests that modern humans may have inherited some of our immune system genes by interbreeding with closely-related non-homo sapiens. That is to say, our ancestors got it on with Neanderthals and we've reaped the benefits. The research focused on human leucocyte antigen (HLA) genes that help the body identify and destroy viruses, as well as other foreign bodies. Through their work, the researchers believe they've found a link between certain HLA genes in humans and those found in prehistoric Neanderthals and another group known as Denisovans. According to their study, the distribution of the genes obtained through interbreeding is not consistent across all humans:  People of European descent got over 50% of one class of HLA variant genes from interbreeding, those of Asian descent have 80%, and people from Papua New Guinean have about 95%. In another example, HLA variants common in West Asia are rare in African people. Stanford University's Peter Parham, who led the study, believes that this discrepency paints a picture of early human migration.

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DARPA Wants Genes With ‘Track Changes’

DARPA is hoping to develop a new, far-fetched technology that will be able to record the modifications made to a gene, similar to how "track changes" records versions of a Word document. And yes, there is a conveniently pronounceable acronym for this effort: CLIO, the Chronicle of Lineage Indicative of Origins. In their own words, the project is: “multidisciplinary research proposals in the area of genomic and proteomic technologies that can continuously and persistently record specific natural or human promulgated environmental, physical and genomic events within the genetic or epigenetic systems of microorganisms.” Elucidating, no? (No.)

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US Government: Naturally Occurring Genes Should Not Be Patentable

The U.S. federal government has declared in a recently issued brief that naturally occurring genes should not be subject to patents, backing up a District Court judge who in March had struck down several attempts to patent human genes associated with cancer. While the impact of the government's brief should not be exaggerated -- it's not clear whether it will be implemented as policy by the U.S. Patent Office, which would have a major impact on the pharmaceutical and biotech industries -- it is a surprise. Law professor and patent watcher Dennis Crouch writes that "Last month, I heard a rumor that Obama administration science and legal advisors outside of the USPTO supported Judge Sweet's ruling [invalidating the patents].  At the time I disregarded that suggestion as unlikely. I was wrong."

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20% of Your Genes Are Patented

Singularity Hub has a fascinating interview with Dr. David Koepsell, a J.D./Ph.D. who specializes in writing about the intersection between ethics and emerging technology. Koepsell's book, Who Owns You?, is currently being adapted into a documentary by filmmaker Taylor Roesch.

In short: Thanks to patents granted beginning in the early 20th century and a key 1980 Supreme Court case, Diamond v. Chakrabarty, both human genes and genetically modified organisms are patentable. According to the New York Times, roughly 20 percent of human genes have been patented, thanks to a blanket of more than 40,000 patents.

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