Should I start patenting the cDNAs I’ve made in the lab?

In a unanimous decision today, the SCOTUS struck down patents for genes by ruling against Myriad Genetics in Association for Molecular Pathology vs. Myriad Genetics. The Court, however, did leave some wiggle room for companies to patent cDNAs, or complementary DNA.

“In Myriad, the high court held cDNA is patentable, because it involves actual work in the laboratory and inverts the normal process found in nature. The synthetic DNA is an edited version of a gene, stripped of non-coding regions that the court said makes it “not naturally occurring.”

Critics say even the edited sequences are directly analogous to naturally occurring DNA.”

In many labs, cDNAs are routinely made, manipulated, and used for research. cDNA is DNA that is engineered in reverse using messenger RNA (mRNA) as the template. As the above quote alludes, a cDNA is not a carbon copy of its corresponding gene. Interspersed along the length of a gene are regions of non-coding DNA sequence. These are segments of DNA that aren’t represented in the sequence of the encoded protein. When a gene is initially transcribed into mRNA some of these non-coding regions, called introns, are included. Introns, however, are ultimately removed by the cell before the mRNA is translated into protein. Since mRNA is used to make cDNA, the introns are excluded from the cDNA sequence.

gene expression
During gene expression, a gene is first transcribed into a primary RNA transcript, which includes non-coding introns (blue). Through a process called splicing the introns are removed from the transcript resulting in a mature mRNA molecule. The sequences found in mRNA are called exons (red and yellow). The mRNA is  then translated into protein. Since cDNA is made from mature mRNA, it will consist only of exon sequences.

Although gene and cDNA are different, they both carry essentially the same DNA sequence for a protein. (It should be noted, however, that many genes encode multiple forms of a protein, for which each form has its own corresponding cDNA.) So, I’m not sure why the “patentable” emphasis is on cDNAs as opposed to making mutations* to the underlying sequence that result in say, new or altered function of a protein. At least there I could see an inventive process happening–or am I missing something here?

*I’m talking about generating novel mutations. Of course, I’m not sure what should happen if said mutations are discovered to be “naturally occurring” after the fact.

Related Reading:

Patents on Nature



Crossposted at Scientopia


Don’t forget to bỏ phiếu in tomorrow’s bầu cử

If the goal is to raise awareness, then sometimes piquing people’s curiosity is most effective. For the past few days I’ve been wearing these pins that say, “Bầu Cử” and people have been asking me what it means. Translated from Vietnamese it means “election,” although the makers of the pin were going for “vote,”in which case “bỏ phiếu” would have been a better translation–no biggie, the sentiment is still there. These pledge pins were sent to me by 18 Million Rising, a get out the vote campaign aimed at the approximately 18 million Asian American electorate:

Asian American Electorate Infographic (source).

They also sent out flyers, which I couldn’t help but modify, as part of a photo stream project:

This post, however, isn’t solely directed at my Asian American brothers and sisters. And neither is it just a reminder for everyone to go out and vote tomorrow. You see, Amasian Dad and I have been engaged in a 12-year political debate. I am a “default” Democrat, whereas he is a lifelong* Republican. I have learned from my dad that traumatic experiences have a way of profoundly impacting political views. He lost his country to communism, so it’s unsurprising that he aligned himself the most “anti-red” platform (my less politically-active Amasian Mom, on the other hand, is what I like to call a RIMO: Republican in marriage only). Needless to say, the differences in our political leanings have been the root of many spirited discussions.

For the past 4 elections, my dad and I have had a tradition of talking to each other the morning before Election Day. It’s a last ditch effort to convince each other to switch votes under the guise of “reminding” each other to vote. Earlier polling suggested that Amasian Dad was actually leaning Obama, but I was doubtful. He was leaning that way in 2008, but in the end he “pulled the lever” for McCain (in actuality, he connected the line for McCain). So, I was surprised by how he greeted me on the phone this morning.

“I’m voting for Obama,” he said in decisive Vietnamese over the phone, before I could finish asking him who he would be voting for. I asked him why and we talked for a bit about his reasons: Medicare, tax policy, our economy vis-a-vis China’s (my dad has a bit of a protectionist streak in him)–the usual campaign rhetoric and talking points. Eventually, we got to talking about federal funding for science and basic research–toward which I admittedly steered the conversation. We touched on how while Obama hasn’t been able to do too much to increase funding, Romney’s plans to cut discretionary spending would include cuts to investments in science and research. As a graduate student considering post-doctoral training, I am a special interest here as funding for both is heavily reliant on federal funds. Toward the end of our conversation my dad reassured me, “If I had been waffling at all on my vote for Obama, this conversation has cemented my choice. 100%.” We hung up and I left for lab feeling strange, but comforted, that my dad and I were in agreement for once.

*as an American citizen that is

Related reading:
On Romney, Obama and U.S. Investments in Science
A vote for science
How my dad saved high school biology

Experimental Ethics

by Youssef Rizk, Esq.

While doing some reading online during the work day, I came across an article about a recently FDA approved experiment that would attempt to develop a treatment for autism using stem cells collected from the child’s umbilical cord blood (“cord blood”) at birth. Quickly summarized, the experiment intends to locate children with autism that do not exhibit any obvious genetic pre-disposition for the disease, such as a hereditary history.  The experiment also attempts to rule out people with head injuries or other trauma that may have caused autism.  The study intends to focus on children with autism that developed the disease from factors like the environment or exposure to infection (perhaps easier said than done when it comes to filtering out candidates, but that’s their problem to figure out).

What really interested me about the article was one particular paragraph that read:

“Using the child’s own cord blood will make the study safe and ethical – plus, the cells are younger and have not been exposed to environmental factors, like viruses or chemicals, which can alter the cell’s function and structure. By using the children’s own stem cells, their bodies cannot reject them.”

The article suggests that using the children’s cord blood to gather stem cells is ethically sound in light of how divisive stem cell research is in society. The objections are mainly against human embryonic stem cells and the research performed using them, which is an objection closely linked to the abortion debate (and I am conveniently going to steer clear of that debate). Objections, which prompted President Bush to limit embryonic research and which President Obama reversed during his presidency. Nonetheless, using one’s own cord blood for stem cell research arguably avoids any ethical issues. It is simply blood kept for the original host’s use at a later time and does not rely on stem cells from other sources.

Intentional or not (and I’m assuming intentional), this experiment is designed in a way that avoids the stem cell research controversy. The decision to use the cord blood of the patients themselves is an admittedly smart way of going about obtaining stem cells because that also ensures that the patient will not reject those cells. It also happens to avoid the ethical debate, thus rendering the experiment with less opposition (if any) and easier to approve by the FDA.

One could argue that true/pure science should not be at the mercy of public opinion and that an experiment should remain unbiased by such opinions. The idea that allowing public opinion into science, corrupts pure scientific research could in fact have some truth (see the old “Cigarettes are good for you” ads like this one:  

Nonetheless, we don’t live in a world where scientists can do whatever they want. Politics are everywhere from the highest reaches of the government to the struggle between competing lab-mates working on similar experiments. Scientists that seek to excel have no choice, but to play society’s games in order to keep progressing in their fields. Scientists often need to be liked as well as distinguished, especially when much of the funding for scientific fields comes from non-scientific sources. David H. Guston of Rutgers University calls it the principal-agent theory.

I thought about political influence on science when I read about the FDA approved autism experiment. Did the scientists consider potential societal objections to their work in such a controversial field? Did that consideration have a factor in the design of their experiment and in seeking FDA approval? Taking into account the fact that the laws of a nation can severely limit or open up scientific research, a good scientist would seem to have to take political factors into considerations for not only experiments, but for grants, and reputation. A scientist that knows how to “play the game” may be the scientist that has the best chance of advancing science.

I find this type of balancing act fascinating because unless a scientist goes off into international waters and funds his/her own research, there is always an influence of public opinion weighing in on the advancement goals of science. Does that influence merely dictate what fields scientists pursue or does it in fact dictate the course of experiments as well? The brief point made in the article about the experiment with autism and stem cells seems to illustrate just one example of where science as well as law/politics meet to discuss ethics.

Urging our Senators to Support NIH Funding: Does it Work?

Last night, before leaving lab I received this email:

Urge Your Senators to Support for $32 Billion for NIH in FY 2013

Dear Colleague,
The Senate Appropriations Committees will soon consider the Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) bill that will provide fiscal year (FY) 2013 funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). FASEB is urging Congress to increase the NIH budget to $32 billion in FY 2013 as the first step of a program of sustained growth that will keep pace with the increasing scientific opportunities, continue our progress in improved heath, and foster economic competitiveness. We need your help to ensure that your Senators hear from the research community about why it is important to provide $32 billion for NIH in 2013!
Please go to to email your Senators today to urge them to support $32 billion for NIH in the FY 2013 LHHS Appropriations bill. Together, we can make a difference for science!
Joseph C. LaManna, PhD
FASEB President

Normally, I fill these out without question, but after clicking the link I wondered whether I was just preaching to the choir. Being from RI, I know that funding the NIH and research in general has the support of my representatives and senators. In a few days I’m sure that I will receive a canned response from Sen. Reed and Sen. Whitehouse pledging their support.

So how effective is it? Has letter writing ever changed the minds of senators who oppose research funding increases? Or do they just picture this when they receive these emails:

Has anyone ever received a reply from a senator expressing why they oppose research funding or why they’ve changed their minds and now support it? If so, I’d love to hear your story. Better yet, if you responses from your senator please share and I’ll attach it to this post.

UPDATE 6.15.12

As anticipated, Senator Reed has responded with a letter expressing his support for NIH Funding: (bold mine)

Dear Mr. Le:
     Thank you for contacting me regarding federal support for medical research.  I appreciate hearing from you.
     To further our understanding of diseases and conditions and improve our nation’s health, I have consistently supported the work of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is the leading federal agency for medical research in the United States, as well as public health programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Scientific research, coupled with greater public education and awareness, has produced significant results with respect to disease rates in this country.
     The Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, which I supported and was signed into law on December 23, 2011, provides over $30 billion to the NIH and $6 billion to the CDC.  You may be interested to learn that I recently joined a number of my colleagues in sending a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee in support of biomedical research funding for the NIH in FY13.  For your review, I have enclosed a copy of this letter.
     It is my hope that strong federal support for medical research will continue to advance our knowledge of diseases, genetic disorders, and chronic conditions.  You can be assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind as I continue to support robust federal investment in medical research.
     Again, thank you for contacting me, and please do not hesitate to write, call, or visit my website,, in the future for information regarding this or any other matter.
Jack Reed
United States Senator

Here’s a copy of the letter to the Approriations Committee: FY13 NIH support

I think the statement, “As NIH grants get more competitive, researchers can easily spend half their careers working before receiving a grant, resulting in promising, talented young researchers being discouraged from biomedical research and some young investigators deciding to abandon scientific research altogether or to conduct their research outside the United States,” will resonate with most of my peers.

Patents On Nature

by Youssef Rizk, Esq.

     Most people are aware that having a patent on an invention, process, or business method is a powerful benefit granted by the government that creates an exclusive right of use to the inventor. Translation: “My idea, not yours! Hands off!”  What people often forget, however, is that in exchange for that right, the government insists that all of the details surrounding the patentable material are revealed to the public.  This requirement is an attempt to balance the individual’s right against the rights of the general public.  It encourages new invention, but promises that eventually those new inventions will become accessible to the public domain (often after 20 years).

     The requirements for obtaining a patent, which reflect the intent of the government to reward invention, but then to have the invention benefit the public interest are that:

1. The invention must be patentable (i.e. fall under the statutory definition of what is patentable

2. The invention must be new/novel (i.e. does not exist prior to the patent process);

3. The invention must be useful; (i.e. it needs to have a beneficial function);

4. The invention must be non-obvious (i.e. it should not be something that someone with a similar set of skills or background could come up with easily); and

5. The invention must be adequately described to the point that someone following the instructions could re-create the invention


     Two recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court have shaken things up in the scientific community.  First, there was the decision in the Mayo Collaborative Services, DBAMayo Medical Laboratories, Et al. v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. case where the court denied patents held by Prometheus.  The patents protected a testing “method” used to determine whether or not a person’s body had absorbed too little or too much thiopurine drugs (used to treat autoimmune diseases) by analyzing the metabolites in the blood after ingenstion.  The case concludes (and I am heavily summarizing the legaleze) that Prometheus could not patent a process that simply told doctors to check the levels and then compare those levels to a scale of what is considered too high or too low.  The court determined that there was nothing novel about performing tests that doctors already performed, especially because the metabolites are a naturally occurring phenomena in the human body that result from metabolizing thiopurine drugs (which the drugs themselves have been in existence long before the patent).  The process also did not instruct the doctors to do anything specific.  For example, the (loosely paraphrased) instruction: “Check the levels of the patient’s metabolites,” was not followed with a description of how to do so.  Instead it was left up to the doctor to determine the correct procedure for measuring the metabolites.  This alone does not transform Prometheus’ process into anything patentable because it relies on the doctor’s innate knowledge to check the blood levels and measure them properly.

     In the more recent case of Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, No. 11-725, the U.S. Supreme Court did not deny the patents, but rather remanded the decision to the Appellate court for reconsideration in light of the Prometheus decision.  Many in the legal community view this sort of thing as essentially a message from the Supreme Court to the Appellate court implying that they change their decision.  Others feel that it may simply be that the Supreme Court needs more to go on after the Appellate Court includes Prometheus in its analysis.  Regardless, the decision has many in an uproar. 

     For starters, in the Myriad case, the issue mainly concerns actual physical materials that Myriad patented rather than a process like that in Prometheus.  Myriad’s patents are for genes found in human DNA that when examined for mutations can indicate whether or not a woman is at high risk for breast or ovarian cancer.  Some argue that the Appellate court need not consider the Prometheus case because it simply has to do with a process that was poorly defined whereas Myriad has patents on actual physical materials.  In opposition to that reasoning some argue that the Supreme Court intends the Appellate Court to analyze the decision not in terms of the patented subjects, but in terms of whether or not one can patent a natural phenomena.

     DNA is something that occurs in nature.  Patenting genes in DNA could be akin to patenting an organ found in a newly discovered insect or the liquid form of oxygen, which does not exist on Earth naturally, but is a form of a natural element.  Simply put, these physical things cannot belong to any one person because no person created them.  However, a unique process for using the new insect organ or creating liquid oxygen could be patentable (In Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U. S. 175, 185, the Supreme Court found that a mathematical formula itself was not patentable, but a unique process that used the formula was.).  What complicates the matter is that Myriad claims that the mutations when analyzed outside the body are a new and transformative creation different from what occurs naturally.  Further (and this is where Prometheus may apply more strongly), Myriad purports to have a process for determining whether or not the genes carry a mutation.  The question is whether Myriad’s process to “determine if there is a mutation” is specific enough or whether it is as general as that in Prometheus.

     Many bio companies consider these U.S. Supreme Court decisions detriments that create disincentives for companies or inventors to continue with their research when there is potentially no patent reward.  Others consider the decisions a win for the scientific community in general because restricting access to naturally occurring phenomena or obvious diagnostic testing would impede scientific progress more greatly.  The courts must consider striking a balance between the openness that benefits communal knowledge and the individual protections that reward ingenuity.  Until we see how the Appellate court further analyzes the Myriad case in light of the decision in Prometheus, we will have to wait to see how these decisions ultimately affect scientific research generally and specifically with bio companies in the long run.  

Featured image credit

Related Reading:

Gene Patenting: Ethical and Legal Issues

Are Obama’s STEM Initiatives Enough?

This is a follow-up to an earlier post:

     Obama’s STEM education initiatives were formally proposed last week with the unveiling of his budget for fiscal year 2013. The purpose of these initiatives is to train 100,000 new STEM teachers by 2020 as well as generate 1 million new STEM graduates as part of a broader plan designed to make America the leading innovator of STEM technologies. Obama’s STEM initiatives face several problems however, the biggest being the fat chance that his budget, which rings in at $3.8 billion, gets approved by Congress. And just for argument’s sake, let’s say his budget does get passed, will his STEM initiatives be enough to counteract the affects of the recession on science and math education/achievement? Or are we effectively fighting the tide without knowing how to swim?

How the recession effects academic achievement

     The early effects of the Great Recession that officially started in December 2007 were dominated by the collapse of the real estate market and the subsequent fall of several Wall St institutions. The panic that hit the banking industry quickly spread through the country, compounded by rising oil and food prices as well as unemployment. Although, the recession itself, was a short-lived event (ending in the Summer of 2009) the lingering effects of the recession can still be felt. At the time of this post, the US employment rate was still high at 8.3%. Now four plus years out from the recession, the economy is still sluggish albeit showing signs of slow recovery.

     Long-term effects of the recession can also be felt in education. One particular area that the Economic Policy Institute identifies as being “economically scarred” is academic achievement. There report indicates that “Unemployment and income losses can reduce educational achievement by threatening early childhood nutrition; reducing families’ abilities to provide a supportive learning environment (including adequate health care, summer activities, and stable housing); and by forcing a delay or abandonment of college plans.” Echoing the EPI’s findings, the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted a study measuring the effects of statewide job loss on student achievement concluding that “job losses decrease scores,” particularly in math. Not to mention that “Elementary and high schools are receiving less state funding than last year in at least 37 states, and in at least 30 states school funding now stands below 2008 levels – often far below.

Rhode Island NECAP scores

     Given that the recession really took a turn for the worse in September 2008, we now have a 3+year-cohort of students (of various grades) whose standardized test scores we can track.  Rhode Island participates in the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP, often pronounced knee-cap), which is a series of standardized tests that measure student proficiency in reading, writing, math and science. Other states that take part of the NECAPs are New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. Using RI as an example, I compiled RI’s math and science test scores from 2008-2011 (available from the RI Department of Elementary and Secondary Education):

     One would have expected worsening scores, however, year-over-year math and science scores either improved or stayed roughly the same for each grade. Either the recession had no effects on RI NECAP scores or the scores are a lagging indicator of recession effects. We have to keep in mind that unemployment did not hit its peak (~10%) until October 2009 and that state education budget cuts were not cut until about a year or two ago. Therefore, it would be imperative to track NECAP scores beyond 2012.

     Of course this exercise is not meant to discredit the effects of the recession on academic achievement. What we see in RI is by no means indicative of trends in math and science scores across the country. It should be noted that the RI education budget changes (FY08 to FY12) are on the lower end (see chart above) and also that RI is among the few states increasing its education budget over last year (FY11):

Are you an education policy expert? Or do you have particular insights into the effects of recession on math and science education? Please feel free to leave a comment or contact me: I would love to hear your thoughts.

Is Sugar Really Sugar?


     Last week an article published by Nature proposed that sugar be regulated in much the same way as tobacco and alcohol. Citing the UN, deaths caused by “chronic non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes pose a greater health burden worldwide than do infectious diseases, contributing to 35 million deaths annually.” The authors go on to describe the connection between increased rates of sugar consumption and the rising cases of metabolic syndrome worldwide.  These disorders are characterized by, but not limited to, obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular and liver disease.

     This has prompted the American Beverage Association to respond, “There is no evidence that focusing solely on reducing sugar intake would have any meaningful public health impact. Importantly, we know that the body of scientific evidence does not support that sugar, in any of its various forms – including fructose, is a unique cause of chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease or metabolic syndrome.” The Sugar Association largely concurs and adds that the use of beet or cane sugar has decreased over the same time period that the obesity epidemic has increased. Conveniently, the Sugar Association fails to mention that the use of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) filled in the gap:

     Why would the Sugar Association not mention HFCS? That’s because they don’t represent the HFCS industry–that’s the job of the Corn Refiner’s Association. And they have remained relatively silent on this front. Maybe they’ve been humbled by all the irony wrapped up in this episode. It’s no secret that HFCS has taken a few bumps over the last few years. The growing natural, health food trend has seriously impacted HFCS’s image and has affected sales. In response, the CFA has spent the last 2 years on a marketing campaign to rebrand their product as corn sugar, stating that, “Health and nutrition experts, including doctors, dietitians, researchers and professional organizations, are in agreement that whether it’s corn sugar — by which we mean HFCS, a sugar made from corn — or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference. Sugar is sugar.” Further muddying the waters is that corn sugar has long been the FDA-approved name for dextrose, which is corn-derived glucose (confused yet?). No love has been lost between the two competing industries as sugar growers have accused the corn industry of deceptive practices and a national false advertising campaign. If you ask me, looking at the graph above, the Sugar Association missed an opportunity to stick it to the Corn Refiner’s Association and lay the obesity blame at the feet of HFCS through the power of correlation!

Many shapes, one flavor

     Sugar is a loose term used to describe a class of molecules known as carbohydrates (organic compounds consisting of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) characterized by a sweet taste. Dietary sugars typtically come in two forms known as monosaccharides and disaccharides. For instance sucrose, otherwise known as table sugar, is a disaccharide consisting of the monosaccharides glucose and fructose chemically linked together. Another example of a monosaccharide is lactose.

     Which brings me back to the premise that HFCS is a sugar. If A=B and B=C, then sugar must be sugar. Or is it? The authors of the Nature article explain, HFCS “is manufactured from corn syrup (glucose), processed to yield a roughly equal mixture of glucose and fructose.” However, there are chemical differences. Sucrose is extracted primarily from sugarcane or sugar beets, whereas HFCS is produced by a multistep process that starts with milling corn into corn starch, processing that corn starch into glucose syrup followed by enzymatic conversion of glucose into fructose. HFCS (55) is a blend of 55% free fructose and ~42% free glucose, while table sugar (sucrose) is 1 molecule of fructose chemically linked to 1 molecule of glucose.

Dangers of Fructose?

     Although sugar has long been thought of as “empty calories” that contributes to obesity, a growing body of evidence points to the connection between sugar, in particular fructose, and chronic illness such as high blood pressure, liver disease, and cardiovascular disease. Whereas glucose metabolism mostly yields the cell’s main fuel, ATP (adenosine triphosphosphate), fructose is primarily shunted into replenishing the body’s stored energy in the form of glycogen and fat. Chronic exposure to a high fructose diet may lead to elevated levels of fats (triglycerides) and cholesterol in the bloodstream which in turn increases the risk of metabolic syndrome. This has prompted researchers to target either the composition or bioavailability of fructose in HFCS as a potential difference between sucrose and HFCS. Bioavailability is the amount of or rate at which a substance or drug is accessible to the body. Scientists hypothesize that the higher % composition of free(unlinked) fructose in HFCS may in fact make HFCS more unhealthy than sucrose because more fructose is immediately available. In the case of table sugar, the bioavailability of fructose would be limited by the rate at which sucrose is cleaved into glucose and fructose.

     Two recent studies have suggested that sucrose and HFCS are not equivalent. Research conducted at Princeton revealed that mice fed water sweetened with HFCS gained more weight than mice fed water sweetened with equal amounts of sucrose. Furthermore, the researchers monitored rats fed a HFCS-diet for 6 months and observed signs of “ metabolic syndrome, including abnormal weight gain, significant increases in circulating triglycerides and augmented fat deposition, especially visceral fat around the belly.” In a study published in December 2011, healthy individuals who drank HFCS-sweetened Dr. Pepper had higher systolic blood pressure and higher amounts of fructose and uric acid in their blood serum (the blood fraction without blood cells and clotting factors) when compare to individuals who drank sugar-sweetened Dr. Pepper shortly after exposure.

    Dr. Pepper Throwback: I got 23 flavors but high-fructose corn syrup ain’t one…

     High uric acid is known to increase blood pressure and is associated with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. However, the authors could not make definitive conclusions regarding the the relative bioavailability of fructose from HFCS vs sucrose. The amount of sucrose in the sugar-sweetened Dr. Pepper at the start of the study had already partially broken down into glucose and fructose and by the end of the study had completely converted into equal parts glucose and fructose. That being said, the total amount of fructose in the HFCS-sweetened Dr. Pepper was still higher at the start and end of the study than the amount in the sugar-sweetened Dr. Pepper. This suggests that the higher fructose content led to an increase in blood pressure, and higher fructose and uric acid serum levels. Needless to say, as with much of science, more work needs to be done.

You say tomato, I say tomahto…

     Perhaps this may all seem like a bit of semantics. After all, it is difficult to exactly pinpoint the causes of metabolic syndrome given that the overall eating habits of Americans have trended up and is confounded by a sedentary lifestyle. But from a public and health policy standpoint it is important that clear definitions and distinctions be made regarding added sweeteners– whether it be sugar or HFCS. Otherwise, it allows for claims like these to be made by the Heritage Foundation, “will higher-priced sugar lead to less consumption? If this logic held, America would already be healthier. Here’s why: The price of sugar is artificially high thanks to federal sugar subsidies and other regulations that, yet Americans still have a sweet tooth,” without acknowledging that the food industry more often than not turns to using HFCS, the price of which is kept artificially low through federal subsidies to corn growers.
Is it fair to say that Americans need to eat less? Yes. Is it fair to say that Americans need to exercise more? Yes. Is it fair to single-out one industry (well really 2, 3 if you count the food industry as a whole as well)? Maybe not. I don’t pretend to know whether added taxes or regulations on added sweeteners would stem the metabolic disease tide but we surely can’t ignore it and its public cost. And in that light, I commend the authors of the Nature article for kick starting a very important conversation, one in which I’ve heard very little in terms of alternatives from the targeted industries. Maybe we should start with re-examining the ways in which we subsidize our foods…

Le, M.T. et al. Effects of high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose on the pharmacokinetics of fructose and acute metabolic and hemodynamic responses in healthy subjects. Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental (2011). DOI:10.1016/j.metabol.2011.09.013

Lustig, R.H., Schmidt, L.A. & Brindis, C.D. Public health: The toxic truth about sugar. Nature 482, 27-29 (2012). DOI: 10.1038/482027a