Summary statement of the Asilomar conference on recombinant DNA molecules.

Several of the molecular biologists who gathered at the Asilomar Conference Grounds reported back on the conference shortly after its conclusion. They stated their general agreement that the voluntary moratorium called for the previous year need not continue. The researchers laid out the criteria for responsible research, focusing on managing risks (which remained largely unknown) with technical forms of containment rather than limits on risky research.

The recombinant DNA controversy: twenty years later.

Paul Berg, one of the scientists behind the original call for a voluntary moratorium on recombinant DNA research, and Maxine Singer, another molecular biologist and fellow Asilomar organizer, reflect on the legacy of Asilomar 20 years after the conference. They identify Asilomar “the beginning of an exceptional era for science and for the public discussion of science policy—one that continues unabated to this day.” They note the universal observance of the voluntary moratorium as evidence of its success.

Potential Biohazards of Recombinant DNA Molecules

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.

Remembering the Future: Science, Law, and the Legacy of Asilomar

Global Observatory Co-Director Ben Hurlbut discusses the ways in which Asilomar crystallizes an imaginary of “governable emergence.” This imaginary posits the relationship between science and the law, where science and technology drive social change while the law lags behind and merely reacts. It also positions the scientific community as gatekeepers by giving precedence to expert assessments of technological possibility and the characterization of technological novelty. Institutionalized bioethics serves an ancillary role, focusing on the downstream consequences of novel technologies.

A Voluntary Moratorium

Sheldon Krimsky details the events surrounding the 1974 call for a voluntary moratorium that produced the following year’s Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA. Krimsky explains the roels that Paul Berg and David Baltimore came to play in publishing the initial call and some of the uncertainties and disputes within the research community that produced it.

CRISPR Democracy: Gene Editing and the Need for Inclusive Deliberation

CRISPR raises basic questions about the rightful place of science in governing the future in democratic societies. This editorial argues that the 1975 Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA is a poor model for governance of emerging gene editing technologies. The authors argue that study and deliberation can be steered in more democratic directions by focusing on four themes: envisioning futures, distribution, trust, and provisionality.