Angry scientists from MIT, Berkeley fight over superhuman gene-editing tool for CRISPR DNA

Scientists at the University of California Berkeley are furious after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suddenly swooped in and took a patent to a “gene-editing” tool that is capable of cutting DNA strands.

The tool works by altering segments of DNA of DNA known as CRISPRs, short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, which have brief repetitions of the base sequences. UC researches in June 2012 found a way to tweak the natural defense system of bacteria with a gene-editing tool, according to a San Jose Mercury News report.

However, seven months later, researchers from MIT and Harvard also found a method of editing genes, but this time for human cells. UC had filed the patent first, but because MIT paid the fee to have theirs expedited, they were awarded the patent, which covers CRISPR editing in every species except bacteria. Additionally, MIT argued that they were further along in their research than UC, and submitted copies of lab notebooks from MIT scientist Feng Zhang to prove it.

But UC was hopping mad about it and is punching back. They are taking their case to the U.S. Patent Office, submitting thousands of pages of evidence that UC actually made the discovery first.

The U.S. Patent Office hasn’t yet indicated whether it will hear the case again — but this case may be far from other. The Patent Office could opt to reopen the case, in which case MIT would have to prove that they were first to demonstrate the concept. If it chooses not to, however, UC could be out of luck.