Public Policy

Photo above: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden join President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) members for a group photo in the Diplomatic Reception Room following a meeting in the China Room of the White House, Jan. 5, 2017. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)


PCAST has issued more than 35 reports since 2008, including:

Gene editing summit

In 2015, Lander served on the Summit Planning Committee for the International Summit on Human Gene Editing. There, he offered remarks on the “Limits of our Understanding” (video) and contributed to the International Summit Statement “On Human Gene Editing.” This statement calls for an ongoing international forum and offers initial guidance on the use of and restrictions for gene editing for basic and preclinical research, for clinical use in somatic applications, and for clinical use in the human germline. 

Supreme Court gerrymandering case

In 2017, Lander filed an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in Gill v Whitford, a case involving partisan gerrymandering in the redistricting process. (Specifically, the case challenged Wisconsin's statewide redistricting plan, adopted in 2011).

The Supreme Court agreed, more than three decades ago, that excessive partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. But, the Supreme Court has not been able to decide whether courts can provide a legal remedy to the problem, which would require identifying a “judicially manageable standard” for recognizing when partisan gerrymandering is excessive.

In the brief, Lander argues that modern computer technology has provided a straightforward standard, by making it possible to determine whether a state’s redistricting plan is an “outlier” relative to the distribution of all possible redistricting plans that comparably satisfy the state’s declared goals.

Lander’s brief and the “outlier” concept it describes were discussed by the Justices during the oral arguments in October 2017 and have been the subject of attention by election-law scholars. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in early 2018.  

Supreme Court gene patenting case

In 2013, Lander filed an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in Association for Molecular Pathology v Myriad Genetics, a case that challenged whether human genes can be patented. (Specifically, the case challenged patents held by Myriad Genetics on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes linked to early-onset breast cancer.)

The Supreme Court was asked to decide whether human genomic DNA was a “product of nature” and thus not eligible for patent protection under Section 101 of the US Patent Act.

An appeals court had concluded that human genomic DNA fragments were not “products of nature.” (Specifically, it found that whole chromosomes were products of nature, but that portions of chromosomes were not.)

In the brief, Lander laid out four decades of scientific evidence that human genomic DNA fragments occur naturally in cells--and thus were clearly products of nature that cannot be patented.

The Justices repeatedly cited the “Lander Brief” during oral arguments in the case.

In June 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that human genes cannot be patented.

Congressional Testimony