Federation of American Scientists Case Studies in Dual Use Biological Research Module 8.0: Public Reaction Case Study
Topic: History Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee

Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee

The conference held at the Asilomar Conference Center in Monterey, California in February 1975 was attended by approximately 90 American scientists and 60 scientists from 12 other countries as well as lawyers and members of the press. The three and a half day meeting was very technical and tensions often ran high. With little data to confirm or deny how much of a risk to the researchers or general public recombinant DNA experiments actually posed it was decided that the technology was too important to restrict. Instead, they held that experiments should continue, but under strict guidelines. The NIH set up these guidelines and the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) in the US and other countries followed suit.

In retrospect, it is clear that the hazards associated with recombinant DNA research have been extremely low or non-existent. The worst fears of some researchers and the public that usually benign and common bacteria would be transformed into dangerous pathogens that produced deadly toxin or cancer causing agents were not realized. In reality recombinant DNA techniques have become routine and are used in most molecular biology labs on a daily basis. They have facilitated the cutting edge advancements of the past 35 years, revolutionized our current understanding of biology, and allowed for the development of many novel drugs and treatments. In fact, the first major commercial health care breakthrough made as a direct result of recombinant DNA technology was Eli Lilly’s successful production and isolation of human insulin from bacteria in the early 1980’s.


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