Reaction to outrage over recombinant DNA, Paul Berg
Interviewee: Paul Berg.
Paul Berg recollects his reaction to his colleague Bob Pollack's opposition to experimentation with recombinant DNA.
(DNAi Location: Manipulation > Revolution > Players > Paul Berg > Reaction to outrage)
My first reaction was that this was absurd, I didn't see any risk to it, and as we began to discuss the thing over a period of time one could imagine ways to ameliorate that risk, was to use molecules that couldn't be transferred outside the cell, he would argue that if you may use your bacteria and they get into your gut they can transfer what you put into them into other organisms that could spread and so on. And I thought that was highly unlikely, but nevertheless after some consideration and consultation with various people, Joshua Lederberg was one, some of, other colleagues that I knew who were familiar with what we were doing, I think I came to the conclusion that I could not say with one hundred percent assurance that this experiment would pose zero risk.
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Paul Berg's student, Janet Mertz, planned an experiment that would recombine DNA from a monkey virus with DNA from a bacterium that lives in the human gut. Berg describes colleague Bob Pollack's outrage at this.
In 1974, scientists in the field of recombinant DNA drafted a letter calling upon "scientists throughout the world" to suspend certain types of studies until hazards could be assessed. Paul Berg talks about the "Moratorium Letter."
Renowned biologist and philosopher Robert Pollack reflects on his concern over the potential danger of Janet Mertz's experiment inserting a cancer-causing gene from a monkey virus into a bacterium that lives in humans.