the impact per hectare corn and cotton generated on the ecological health of freshwater systems decreased by about 50% in the last decade. This change is mainly due to the use of genetically modified (GM) crops
In 1970 the United States recognised the potential of crop science by broadening the scope of patents in agriculture. Patents are supposed to reward inventiveness, so that should have galvanised progress. Yet, despite providing extra protection, that change and a further broadening of the regime in the 1980s led neither to more private research into wheat nor to an increase in yields. Overall, the productivity of American agriculture continued its gentle upward climb, much as it had before.
In other industries, too, stronger patent systems seem not to lead to more innovation. That alone would be disappointing, but the evidence suggests something far worse.
Patents are supposed to spread knowledge, by obliging holders to lay out their innovation for all to see; they often fail, because patent-lawyers are masters of obfuscation. Instead, the system has created a parasitic ecology of trolls and defensive patent-holders, who aim to block innovation, or at least to stand in its way unless they can grab a share of the spoils. An early study found that newcomers to the semiconductor business had to buy licences from incumbents for as much as $200m. Patents should spur bursts of innovation; instead, they are used to lock in incumbents’ advantages.
The patent system is expensive. A decade-old study reckons that in 2005, without the temporary monopoly patents bestow, America might have saved three-quarters of its $210 billion bill for prescription drugs. The expense would be worth it if patents brought innovation and prosperity. They don’t.
Innovation fuels the abundance of modern life. From Google’s algorithms to a new treatment for cystic fibrosis, it underpins the knowledge in the “knowledge economy”. The cost of the innovation that never takes place because of the flawed patent system is incalculable. Patent protection is spreading, through deals such as the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership, which promises to cover one-third of world trade. The aim should be to fix the system, not make it more pervasive.
One radical answer would be to abolish patents altogether—indeed, in 19th-century Britain, that was this newspaper’s preference. But abolition flies in the face of the intuition that if you create a drug or invent a machine, you have a claim on your work just as you would if you had built a house. Should someone move into your living room uninvited, you would feel justifiably aggrieved. So do those who have their ideas stolen.
Yet no property rights are absolute. When the benefits are large enough, governments routinely override them—by seizing money through taxation, demolishing houses to make way for roads and controlling what you can do with your land. Striking the balance between the claim of the individual and the interests of society is hard. But with ideas, the argument that the government should force the owners of intellectual property to share is especially strong...
Governments have long recognised that these arguments justify limits on patents. Still, despite repeated attempts to reform it, the system fails. Can it be made to work better? ... One aim should be to rout the trolls and the blockers. Studies have found that 40-90% of patents are never exploited or licensed out by their owners. Patents should come with a blunt “use it or lose it” rule, so that they expire if the invention is not brought to market. Patents should also be easier to challenge without the expense of a full-blown court case. The burden of proof for overturning a patent in court should be lowered.
Patents should reward those who work hard on big, fresh ideas, rather than those who file the paperwork on a tiddler. The requirement for ideas to be “non-obvious” must be strengthened... Patents also last too long. Protection for 20 years might make sense in the pharmaceutical industry, because to test a drug and bring it to market can take more than a decade. But in industries like information technology, the time from brain wave to production line, or line of code, is much shorter. When patents lag behind the pace of innovation, firms end up with monopolies on the building-blocks of an industry...
From Scott Keough, ANU, "I have a long-standing interest in helping students develop the skills they need to be successful in science and so I have constructed this web site as a first source of information on the development of these important life skills."
You'll find advice about finding a PhD or postdoc position and funding, writing grants etc.
“Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. It appeared in glossy print, m
..., researchers ... have finally discovered that a small, PIWI-interacting RNA molecule (piRNA) produced by the female chromosome is the determining factor of femaleness in the worms (1). It’s the first known instance of a non-coding RNA molecule determining sex, and the finding paves the way toward not only new breeding techniques for silkworms but also a better understanding of the regulation of small RNA molecules.
Gil McVean, Alexander Dilthey and colleagues present a graphical model-based method for accurate genomic assembly that uses the diversity present in multiple reference sequences, as represented by a population reference graph. The method is applied to simulated and empirical data from the human MHC region to demonstrate the improved accuracy of genomic inference.
Reproduction through sex carries substantial costs, mainly because only half of sexual adults produce offspring. It has been theorized that these costs could be countered if sex allows sexual selection to clear the universal fitness constraint of mutation load. Under sexual selection, competition between (usually) males and mate choice by (usually) females create important intraspecific filters for reproductive success, so that only a subset of males gains paternity. If reproductive success under sexual selection is dependent on individual condition, which is contingent to mutation load, then sexually selected filtering through /`genic capture/' could offset the costs of sex because it provides genetic benefits to populations. Here we test this theory experimentally by comparing whether populations with histories of strong versus weak sexual selection purge mutation load and resist extinction differently. After evolving replicate populations of the flour beetle Tribolium castaneum for 6 to 7 years under conditions that differed solely in the strengths of sexual selection, we revealed mutation load using inbreeding. Lineages from populations that had previously experienced strong sexual selection were resilient to extinction and maintained fitness under inbreeding, with some families continuing to survive after 20 generations of sib [times] sib mating. By contrast, lineages derived from populations that experienced weak or non-existent sexual selection showed rapid fitness declines under inbreeding, and all were extinct after generation 10. Multiple mutations across the genome with individually small effects can be difficult to clear, yet sum to a significant fitness load; our findings reveal that sexual selection reduces this load, improving population viability in the face of genetic stress.
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