The experiment that galvanized the scientific community, Paul Berg
Interviewee: Paul Berg.
Paul Berg talks about why experiments with recombinant DNA set off a firestorm of controversy, including a moratorium on further experimentation with rDNA.
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You could take a colony and put it into a hundred gallon vat and the bacteria would grow up and fill up the vat, and every cell in that vat would contain the piece of DNA that the original bacterium picked up when you mixed them with the DNA. So that showed you could clone DNA, and I think that experiment is what galvanized the scientific community. It is in fact the experiment that motivated the moratorium letter, because it became clear you could put any kind of DNA into that plasmid and get it into a bacterium, and so you could put toxin genes, you could put drug-resistant genes, any kind of DNA you had access to could be put into a plasmid, put into a bacterium and cloned.
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.
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.