The moratorium letter regarding risky experiments, Paul Berg
Interviewee: Paul Berg.
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."
(DNAi Location: Manipulation > Revolution > Players > The controversy > The moratorium letter)
And as the letter developed, what we realized is not every conceivable experiment was dangerous, or could anybody even claim to be dangerous, although certain types of experiments might be. So the letter was constructed, although it's been referred to as a moratorium, we didn't ask for any cessation of the experiments, the letter actually identified a wide variety of experiments that we believed could proceed without any risk. And then identified three kinds of experiments that we thought carried some degree of risk, even though we didn't know the extent of that. And therefore we suggested that people would defer those three kinds of experiments, don't put toxin genes into E. coli, don't put drug-resistant genes into E. coli and don't put cancer genes into E. coli.
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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.
The controversy: With recombinant DNA, scientists had the means to manipulate living things. But could there be a danger in "playing God?" While some were thrilled by the potential of these new techniques to combat genetic diseases such as cancer, others