Potential Biohazards of Recombinant DNA Molecules

Paul Berg
David Baltimore
Herbert W. Boyer
Stanley N. Cohen
Ronald W. Davis
David S. Hogness
Daniel Nathans
Richard Roblin
James D. Watson
Sherman Weissman
Norton D. Zinder
A committee of prominent genetic researchers writing on behalf of the Assembly of Life Sciences and the National Research Council (NRC) call for action to address concerns around recombinant DNA. This action includes “voluntarily deferring” several types of scientific experimentation, generally involving the dissemination of potentially harmful plasmids. They also include the formation of an advisory committee to oversee experiments and develop guidelines and procedures for potentially hazardous research. They further call for “an international meeting of involved scientists from all over the world”; this meeting would become the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA. The authors acknowledge that their call may result in “postponement or possibly abandonment of certain types of scientifically worthwhile experiments,” but consider the risks to public health too great to ignore. This call established a significant precedent for voluntary moratoria in biological and other research, as well as a touchstone example of scientific self-governance many scientists still use as a reference point.