A seed-patent case involving Monsanto, an Indiana grain farmer and the U.S. Supreme Court took a slight detour this week when one of the high-court justices asked about the genetic modification of soybeans. That’s according to an official transcript of oral arguments that happened Tuesday.
The exchange involved Justice Antonin Scalia and Seth Waxman, a Washington-based attorney representing Monsanto.
"I think it's important to understand how this technology works," Waxman said. "The Department of Agriculture licensed Monsanto to engage in a transformation event; that is, to introduce its recombinant gene into soybean germ plasma. It's illegal to do it unless you get a government license to do it. And you can do it once. And that is done by the technology company, use -taking something what's called a gene gun and using the gene gun to inject recombinant DNA into regular germ plasma."
"What do you mean you can do it once? I don't know what you --"
The exchange continued:
Waxman: "The -- the Department of Agriculture authorized Monsanto to engage in -- to transform natural -- natural plant material with its recombinant gene in one single event that is referred to as a transformation.
Scalia: "One shot of a gun."
Waxman: "I think you may be able to shoot several -- I don't know whether you can shoot a whole round or whatever. But in any event, it's one event.
Scalia: "You can't rob a bank with it, though, right?"