Monsanto Court Case: Can Gene Guns Rob Banks?

14:33PM Feb 21, 2013

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."

Scalia interjected.

"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?"


Waxman: "I, in my mind, have been trying to figure out what a gene gun looks like. And I don't know -- I don't know if you could use it to rob a bank. But the point is -- and the -- the Federal Register site for the transformation event with respect to Roundup Ready is -- is provided in a footnote in our brief. What happens then is that Monsanto uses those transformed cells to grow a soybean plant.

"And that soybean plant produces genetic -­produces seeds or soybeans that have the recombinant
Roundup Ready technology in it. Monsanto then provides -- in almost all of the cases, Monsanto engages in licensed sales of those transformed seeds to hundreds of different seed companies that produce different varieties, and they make both conventional seed with a particular varietal makeup and a Roundup Ready version of that variety."


Complete coverage of Bowman v. Monsanto on AgWeb: