Concerns About Recombinant DNA Technology

In 1971, as researchers were planning some of the first gene-cloning experiments, in which they planned to transfer genes from tumor viruses to E. coli, several scientists raised concerns about the safety of such experiments. E. coli is present in the human intestinal tract, and these scientists questioned whether it might be possible for recombinant bacteria to escape from the laboratory and infect people, eventually transferring tumor-causing genes to people. The risks were thought to be small, but the real hazards were quite unknown.

When the first experiments using recombinant DNA were performed in 1973, concerns about risks associated with recombinant technology were heightened. Although no hazard had been demonstrated, a number of potential dangers could be envisioned. In July 1974, leading molecular biologists published a letter in Science urging scientists to stop conducting certain types of potentially hazardous recombinant DNA experiments until their risks could be evaluated. In February 1975, a group of more than 100 molecular biologists met and agreed that some restrictions on recombinant DNA research were warranted. They formulated a series of recommendations concerning the types of recombinant DNA experiments that should be prohibited.

The National Institutes of Health then appointed a committee to develop guidelines for recombinant DNA research. Different types of cloning experiments were considered to have different degrees of risk, and more precautions were required for the more "risky" experiments. The

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