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World and nation briefs

Saturday, December 1, 2012 - 11:49 am

Court to decide if genes can be patented

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court announced Friday it will decide whether companies can patent human genes, a decision that could reshape medical research in the United States and the fight against diseases like breast and ovarian cancer.

The justices' decision will likely resolve an ongoing battle between scientists who believe that genes carrying the secrets of life should not be exploited for commercial gain and companies that argue that a patent is a reward for years of expensive research that moves science forward.

The current case involves Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City, which has patents on two genes linked to increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad's BRACAnalysis test looks for mutations on the breast cancer predisposition gene, or BRCA. Those mutations are associated with much greater risks of breast and ovarian cancer.

But the American Civil Liberties Union challenged those patents, arguing that genes couldn't be patented, and in March 2010, a New York district court agreed. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has now twice ruled that genes can be patented, in Myriad's case because the isolated DNA has a “markedly different chemical structure” from DNA within the body.

Obama: Don't hold middle-class tax cuts hostage

WASHINGTON – President Obama says it's unacceptable for some congressional Republicans to “hold middle-class tax cuts hostage” because they don't want tax rates to rise on the wealthy.

In his weekly radio and Internet address today, Obama says the average middle-class family of four could pay $2,200 more in taxes next year after the fiscal cliff. He says Republicans could give families “a sense of security going into the New Year” by extending tax cuts for the middle class.

In the Republican address, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch accuses Obama of a “classic bait-and-switch on the American people” amounting to a tax increase twice the size of what he campaigned on.

Guards testify on GI's time at Quantico brig

FORT MEADE, Md. – Some former guards at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., are testifying against an Army private charged with sending hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the secret-spilling WikiLeaks website.

The guards are prosecution witnesses in a pretrial hearing that were to resume this morning for Pfc. Bradley Manning. He's seeking dismissal of the case, contending his nine months in isolation at Quantico amounted to illegal punishment.

The military maintains the restrictions were to prevent Manning from killing or hurting himself.

A former guard testified Friday that Manning partly collapsed and started whimpering one day in January 2011 after jailers admonished him about this attitude.

He says Manning seemed to strike at his own head during an argument later that day, causing the brig commander to place him on suicide watch.

Tribes raise $9M for sacred SD land

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – After months of high-profile fundraising that drew celebrities' attention and dollars, a group of Native American tribes has raised $9 million to buy a piece of land in South Dakota's Black Hills that they consider sacred, an official with an Indian land foundation said Friday.

The Indian Land Tenure Foundation president Cris Stainbrook told The Associated Press that the tribes raised enough money to purchase the land. The foundation was one of several groups and organizations leading the effort to buy the land.

The deal was finalized Friday, which was the deadline for the tribes to raise the money.

The land, known as Pe' Sla, went up for sale after being privately owned. Members of the Great Sioux Nation have been allowed to gather there every year to perform rituals. The site plays a key role in the tribes' creation story, and members fear new owners would develop it.

An 1868 treaty set aside the Black Hills and other land for the Sioux, but Congress passed a law in 1877 seizing the land after the discovery of gold in western South Dakota. A 1980 U.S. Supreme Court ruling awarded more than $100 million to the Sioux tribes for the Black Hills, but the tribes have refused to accept the money, saying the land has never been for sale.

North Korea to launch long-range rocket

PYONGYANG, North Korea – North Korea said today it will launch a long-range rocket between Dec. 10 and 22. Washington considers North Korea's rocket tests to be veiled covers for tests of long-range missile technology banned by the United Nations.

– From wire reports