Learn more about the Asilomar AI Principles that resulted from the conference, the process involved in developing them, and the resulting discussion about each. Summary Statement of the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA Molecules. Paul Berg, David Baltimore, Sydney Brenner, Richard O. Roblin, and Maxine. October 14 – 18, – Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, California // Course# MMH Agenda/Program | Faculty/Speakers | Conference.

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National Academies Press US ; I remember the Asilomar Conference as an event both exciting and confusing. Exciting because of the scale of the scientific adventure, the great expanses which had opened to research, and because no one could be indifferent to the debate over the powers and responsibilities of scientists.

Confusing because some of the basic questions could only be dealt with in great disorder, or not confronted at all. On the frontiers of the unknown the analysis of benefits and hazards were asiomar up in concentric circles of ignorance. At noon on February 27,the curtain descended on the first act of what is likely to go down in the history of science as the recombinant DNA controversy.

The setting was the chapel of a conference center in the peaceful California coastal town of Pacific Grove. The cast included about molecular biologists from some of the world’s premier laboratories, and the final scene showed an agreement being struck among these scientists regarding the asiloar of genetic experimentation, which they had voluntarily stopped six months before.

Yet despite this difficult and commendable achievement, the succeeding episodes of this real-life drama rather suddenly took a turn for the worse. Laypersons, scientists, and legislators, on one side or the conferenci, engaged in an angry struggle over the resumption of research. Numerous hearings, forums, and town meetings were held. In townships, states, and Congress, bills governing laboratory research were drafted and debated asolomar length, and injunctions to forbid all such experimentation were sought in the courts.

Half a decade of recriminations and anxiety passed before concerencia and biomedical science patched up the largest rents in their mutually beneficial entente. Why did this happen? Could it have been avoided? Can we be sure that such a threat to such a sensitive relationship will not happen again?

The objective of this essay is to reconstruct, from an abundant record, 2 the story of the climactic event of the first act, the Asilomar conference of The subject should asilomra viewed in the broadest context; therefore, we must zoom in conefrencia it from the past, using a wide-angle lens.

Intwo noteworthy but unrelated events occurred that precipitated important changes in biomedical research.

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One was a scientific achievement, the other a political decision. The scientific achievement was the discovery of the chemistry of genes. When the first cautious report was absorbed and accepted, it snapped into focus genetics research of the past 80 years if one counted the careful notes the monk Gregor Mendel put aside in Following a much earlier trail of research, especially a clue that different strains of pneumococcus were able to exchange certain characteristics like coat appearance and virulence, Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod, and Maclyn McCarty at the Rockefeller Institute established that the exchanger was a sticky macromolecule or polymer made up of sugar, bases, and phosphoric acid, known as deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA.

The symbolic political event in was a directive from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to his chief of wartime research, Vannevar Bush, to find a way to continue federal financing of medical and other scientific research, which proved so successful after the nation’s laboratories had been mobilized for war in what historian Hunter Dupree calls the Great Instauration of The constitutional silence on a federal mandate to support science for its own sake was forgotten.

Academic leaders and scientists were ready to overcome a long-held suspicion that taking government money was bound to mean the sale of academic freedom.

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The details of how this new policy began with the National Institutes of Health NIH in and how this agency became a magician’s wand whose touch gave biomedical research an exponential rate of growth for more than 10 years thereafter are major stories in themselves.

The overall result was florid expansion of the capacity of America’s academic institutions to carry out research and to train young researchers.

The greatest growth occurred in basic research, a high-risk activity dependent on public funds. This burgeoning scientific community quickly discovered that prewar fears of government interference with scientific freedoms were groundless. From the first, the new resources were primarily distributed to individual scientists on the basis of judgments on their proposals by scientific peers, managed on a national basis.


The briskly expanding network of basic scientists, widely scattered in universities or nonprofit laboratories, was largely self-regulating and united in a worldwide profession with the same objectives and intrinsic ethic. Indeed, this shared belief in the autonomy and right of internal regulation of scientific investigation became the central dramatic theme of the recombinant DNA controversy.

By restricting themselves voluntarily the scientists jeopardized the freedom that was absolutely necessary for the vitality and success of their enterprise. In the midst of what became the scientific boom years of the s, another epochal scientific event occurred in England.

With dazzling deduction and splendid showmanship, the helical form and base-pairing structure of DNA were unveiled by James Watson and Francis Crick in Cambridge in Such a dramatic expansion of the scientific horizon was perfectly timed to the swelling of the ranks of biomedical researchers. A large fraction of the best and the brightest of the decade’s graduate students had begun to move into this pool.

Being highly competitive, they shared with budding investment bankers and other entrepreneurs the knack for perceiving where the harvest would someday be most bountiful. As a career, experimental research involves a long apprenticeship to acquire specialized techniques that are applicable to one particular subdiscipline.

Thus, the young scientist must select his or her special area of interest with care, so that when embarked on a lifetime adventure in independent research, his or her chosen field will be ripe in opportunities for discovery.

By the early s an increasing number of aspirants chose to move to the frontier where the outer edges of genetics, biochemistry, and microbiology were merging, alongside a flood of new technologies such as electron microscopy, crystallography, cell culture, and virology, and in parallel with increased capabilities for information storage and analysis. By mid-century, the center of this fluid, expanding field became known as molecular biology, a term arguably attributed to the English x-ray crystallographer W.

What was the full nature of genes? How were they organized in the chromosomes? Were they conserved in evolution? Were they interchangeable among species? What were the mysterious codes they carried?

How were they translated? How was expression regulated with such exquisite timing to produce differentiation throughout asolomar growth and decline of such a complex machine as man?

What were the nature and origin of abnormal genes that failed in their assignments or caused disease? The birth and early growth of the discipline now centering on genetics were hastened and greatly enlivened by the participation of scientists, many of them British or European, who were attracted to biology from such disciplines as mathematics, physics, and chemistry.

The techniques available to get at the gene, however, were crude and cumbersome, and it took some time for the field to mature.

In early studies of gene recombination—which is an important process for reproduction—pioneers like Thomas Hunt Morgan had profitably used the fruit fly drosophilacreatures that are still invaluable for this purpose today.

Others, like Barbara McClintock, turned to corn or other plants to learn about the organization of genes in the chromosomes and their mobility or susceptibility to rearrangement. In their classical work in the s and s, George W. Beadle and Edward L. Tatum used bread molds neurosporawhich are easy to culture and reproduce rapidly by genetic crosses.

Simple as they were, the molds taught these pioneer geneticists the fundamental tenet of the central dogma: Those researchers who were primarily interested in studying growth, differentiation, and genetics in mammalian tissues, including humans, now turned by necessity to the microbiological world for answers.

The inhabitants of this ancient kingdom of living things had been the most instructive tutors of biologists since the promulgation of the germ theory of disease by Pasteur and Koch in the nineteenth century. Bacteria were readily available, had short generation times, and were cheap and simple to culture as well as generally predictable and reliable in behavior.

Until a large share of the growth in understanding of biochemistry and nutrition and the great maturation of enzymology was attributable to studies of bacteria. For genetic studies there are fundamental differences between the bacteria and viruses and most other living things.

The former are termed prokaryotes because they have no cellular nucleus and the chromosomes are free in the cobferencia juice, or cytoplasm. In bacteria some of these genes are in circular DNA molecules, or plasmids, which are often exceptionally mobile and can transfer genes to other bacteria. All the other cellular forms are called eukaryotes, and their cell nuclei hold all but a few of their genes arranged in a certain number of pairs of chromosomes.

All the genes of either a prokaryote or a eukaryote are known collectively as the genome. In the major processes of exchange of genetic characters between organisms, so-called transductions or transformations, could only be observed in a few strains of microorganisms, one of which was the intestinal bacterium Escherichia coli, a laboratory partner in many invaluable studies.


Of particular importance was, and still is, a stable strain of E. It was in this strain that a asilokar Joshua Lederberg, while studying with Tatum at Yale, observed a third method of the transfer asipomar genetic characters, called conjugation. The entering DNA recombines with the host genome, and, after replication and cell division, the new recombinant cell has genetic features of the two parental DNAs. Viruses also began to make invaluable contributions to molecular biology after techniques for cultivating cells in culture were devised in the s.

Viruses are invisible packets of genes and proteins so small they can pass through filters that capture bacteria. Conffrencia viruses are the only organisms in the biosphere that utilize a genome that contains not DNA but RNA ribonucleic acid. Viruses have long been known to cause tumors in animals—indeed, as long ago aswhen Peyton Rous found a retrovirus that causes sarcoma in chickens.

Since then many other RNA and DNA viruses that are tumorigenic in animals, particularly rodents, have been identified. The Epstein-Barr virus, a DNA virus isolable from a rare tumor called Burkitt’s lymphoma, is one of the few viruses suspected of being tumorigenic in man. The potential hazards of infections from bacteria and viruses did not retard early work in molecular biology. By the second decade after coferencia transforming principle had been enunciated, the laboratories of virologists and microbiologists had been thoroughly infiltrated by biochemists, geneticists, and cell and molecular biologists.

The whir of the Sharples centrifuge, surrounded by its misty aerosol of Escherichiae in harvest, was commonplace in the most advanced laboratories and a sign that higher science was in progress.

Viruses were handled on open laboratory tables, and—there being as yet no better methods—cultures were transferred by mouths separated from the contents of the pipette by a cotton plug. The microbiologists had learned, in their apprenticeships, respectful behavior confetencia organisms known to cause disease pathogens and compulsively washed down the lab tops and their hands if a drop of viral culture was spilled. Outside of the effects of the later extensive use of antibiotics, however, a general belief prevailed that man and microbes had reached a state of equilibrium that was not likely to be easily upset by human manipulation.

The interests of most of the molecular biologists did not lie in classical bacteriology, and many had received only rudimentary instruction in handling pathogens or in the ecology of microorganisms. Any anxieties they harbored were directed more toward maintaining a competitive edge in the hunt for new paradigms, and their laboratory technique with respect to germs often reflected this priority.

The possibility of using the insights and methods of molecular biology to better the lot of mankind was already being conferejcia by the mids. The ever-expanding territory of molecular biology spread across two continents and occupied floors in the top universities and research centers of a number of countries. A half-dozen British laboratories, including ones at Cambridge, London, and Edinburgh, largely supported by the Medical Research Council, were highly productive. In the s and s France also had its centers, particularly in Paris, at both the university and the Pasteur Institute.

Here an elegant conception of how the expression of bacterial genes is regulated was being shaped. First, bacteria, prominently including E. From these experiments gradually emerged the concept of the operon, a cluster of genes controlled by a single promoter.

This idea led to an asilomae of repression and induction of gene expression. By far the largest number of molecular biologists were working in the United States in laboratories extending from Boston and Cold Spring Harbor in New York to southern California.

In addition, the NIH intramural laboratories committed substantial resources to molecular biology in the s, with the heaviest concentration being in virology. The National Cancer Institute NCI would soon erect one of the very few maximum security laboratories in the world to search for the elusive viruses some thought were at the root of human asilomr.

The National Science Foundation NSF at this time was also providing important financial support to nonmedical scientists. Its stated purpose was to offer advice on establishing large-scale cell cultures at different sites to foster a scale-up of studies in molecular biology, but it was also a clearinghouse for ideas of some of the leaders in the field.