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March 26, 2013 at 7:00 PM
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Patents said threat to 'genomic liberty'

NEW YORK, March 26 (UPI) -- Companies holding more than 40,000 patents on DNA molecules have essentially staked claim to the entire human genome for profit, U.S. researchers say.

Medical researcher Christopher E. Mason of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York says an analysis of patents held on human DNA raises concerns.

"If these patents are enforced, our genomic liberty is lost," he said. "Just as we enter the era of personalized medicine, we are ironically living in the most restrictive age of genomics. You have to ask, how is it possible that my doctor cannot look at my DNA without being concerned about patent infringement?"

Mason and Jeffrey Rosenfeld of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey said 41 percent of the human genome is covered by DNA patents that often cover whole genes.

They also said that, because many genes share similar sequences within their genetic structure, if all of the "short sequence" patents were allowed in aggregate, they could account for 100 percent of the genome, the study published in Genome Medicine said.

Under U.S. patent law, researchers who are first to find a gene that promises a useful application, such as for a diagnostic test, can patent those genes.

Patients and doctors wishing to perform such a diagnostic test would have to utilize the expensive services of the patent owner even though "hundreds of clinical laboratories around the country could perform such a test for possibly much less," Mason said.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to review genomic patent rights in a hearing on April 15.

"I am extremely pro-patent but I simply believe that people should not be able to patent a product of nature," Mason said.

"Moreover, I believe that individuals have an innate right to their own genome, or to allow their doctor to look at that genome, just like the lungs or kidneys. Failure to resolve these ambiguities perpetuates a direct threat to genomic liberty, or the right to one's own DNA."

Study: Street gangs not into cybercrime

HUNTSVILLE, Texas, March 26 (UPI) -- Street gangs aren't using the Internet to recruit new members or commit complex cybercrimes, a study by Texas researchers indicates.

"What they are doing online is typically what they are doing on the street," study co-author David Pyrooz at Sam Houston State University said. "For the most part, gang members are using the Internet for self-promotion and braggadocio but that also involves some forms of criminal and deviant behaviors."

The study, published in the journal Justice Quarterly, looked at the use of the Internet and social networking sites by gang members and other young adults, a university release reported Tuesday.

The study was based on interviews with 585 young adults from Cleveland; Fresno, Calif.; Los Angeles; Phoenix; and St. Louis.

While gang members are using the Internet to sell drugs, search social network sites to steal and rob and to coordinate assaults, they aren't engaging in intricate cybercrimes, such as phishing schemes, identity theft or hacking into commercial enterprises, the study found.

"We observe that neither gang members nor their peers have the technological competency to engage in complex forms of cybercrime," the study authors wrote. "In short, while the Internet has reached inner city populations, access alone is not translating into sophisticated technological know-how."

Gangs also don't use the Internet for purposes instrumental to the group, such as recruiting new members, setting up meetings or other organizational activities, the study authors said.

However, law enforcement should continue to monitor and address gangs and crime online by working closely with websites and ISPs, the researchers recommended.

"Technology is part of the problem but it is just as likely part of the solution," Pyrooz said.

Google takes on Swedish language watchdog

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, March 26 (UPI) -- Complaints from Google have led to the deletion of the word "ungoogleable" from a list of new Swedish words, the Language Council of Sweden says.

The country's language watchdog has defined "ungoogleable" -- "ogooglebar" in Swedish -- as something that does not show up in results from any Internet search engine, but Google insisted the word, since it contains "Google," should refer only to Google searches, the council reported.

The council publishes an annual list of 10 new words becoming popular in Sweden as an indication of how society and language are changing.

Council head Ann Cederberg said an email arrived from Google soon after publication of the list in December requesting a "disclaimer" while stressing that Google is a trademark.

Concerned at the prospect of a legal tussle and unwilling to change the word's definition, the council instead removed it from its list.

"I don't want to be influenced by a company, but this was the only way to solve the problem," Cederberg told the BBC.

"We could not go to court. The only way was to remove the word from the list and tell the world what happened."

Contacted for a comment, a Google representative told the BBC the company, "like many businesses, takes routine steps to protect our trademark."

Nanofoams could create better body armor

SAN DIEGO, March 26 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say new nanofoam materials could be used in body armor to prevent traumatic brain injury and blast-related lung injuries in soldiers.

Such materials could also protect buildings from impacts and blasts, they said.

"We are developing nanofoams that help disperse the force of an impact over a wider area," Yu Qiao, a professor of structural engineering at the University of California, San Diego, said. "They will appear to be less rigid but will actually be more resistant than ordinary foams."

The nanofoams are made up of a honeycomb structure and are very light, because the open pores of the honeycomb make up anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the structure, the researchers said.

Researchers create the nanofoams by blending two materials together at the molecular level, then use acid etching or combustion to remove one of the two materials, creating nano-scale empty channels in the process, a university release reported Tuesday.

Samples with pore sizes around tens of nanometers perform best, they said, absorbing energy from an impact or blast over a wider area, making the material more resistant to such events.

By contrast, ordinary foams absorb energy in one localized area, leading to quick failure, a problem known as "damage localization."

"People have been looking at preventing damage from impacts for more than a hundred years," Qiao said. "I hope this concept can provide a new solution."

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