Just When You Thought It was Safe

An Update on the Risks of Recombinant DNA Technology
  • David Ozonoff


It is now just a bit more than a decade since the thoughts of scientists and policy makers were preoccupied with the recombinant DNA controversy. We are now told that this was a tempest in a teapot—that “without doubt, almost all fears and concerns over recombinant DNA expressed in the early days of its advent have been laid to rest.”1 The needless alarm notwithstanding, the manner in which the affair was handled is also portrayed as a proud moment for science, when scientists recognized their social responsibilities and voluntarily suspended potentially valuable work until secure that it could be pursued safely.


Supra Note Legal Profession Laboratory Profession Interstate Commerce Commission Human Intestinal Tract 
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References and Notes

  1. 1.
    Levine, M. M., Kaper, J. B., Lockman, H., Black, R. E., Clements, M. L., and Falkow, S., Recombinant DNA risk assessment studies in man: Efficacy of poorly mobilizable plasmids in biologic containment, Recombinant DNA Technical Bulletin 6:89–97 (1983).PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    One could say that the profound changes that this technology has wrought in the ecology of academic biology departments and their relationship to industry is itself a major unforeseen and untoward event. But this matter has already been discussed by Dr. Krimsky in an earlier chapter.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cf. Krimsky, S., Genetic Alchemy ,MIT Press, Cambridge (1983);Google Scholar
  4. 3a.
    Lear, J., Recombinant DNA: The Untold Story ,Crown, New York (1978)Google Scholar
  5. 3b.
    Wade, N., The Ultimate Experiment ,Walker, New York (1977).Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    See Krimsky, supra ,chap. 1.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Cf. King, J., New diseases in new niches, Nature 276:4–7 (1978)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 5a.
    King, J., Recombinant DNA and autoimmune disease, . Inf. Diseases 137:663–5 (1978).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 6.
    For a review of the early regulatory strategy, see Krimsky, S., and Ozonoff, D., Recombinant DNA research: The scope and limits of regulation, Am. /. Public Health 69:1252–9 (1979).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 7.
    The inherent conflict of having the agency that was the largest public supporter of biomedical research in the United States also regulating this work was commented on at the time by, among others, Wright, S., Setting science policy: The case of recombinant DNA, Environment 20:7–41 (1978).Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    Proceedings were published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases ,vol. 137 (1978).Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    Krimsky, supra note 3, chap. 16.Google Scholar
  13. 10.
    Sansonetti, P. J., Hale, T. L., Dammin, G. J., Kapfer, C., Collins, H. H., Jr., and Formal, S. B., Alterations in the pathogenicity of Escherichia coli K-12 after transfer of plasmid and chromosomal genes from Shigella flexneri, Infection and Immunity 39:1392–1402 (1983).PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 11.
    Chatigny, M. A., Hatch, M. T., Wolochow, H., Adler, T., Hresko, J., Macher, J., and Besemer, D., Studies on release and survival of biological substances used in recombinant DNA laboratory procedures, Recombinant DNA Technical Bulletin 2:62–7 (1979).Google Scholar
  15. 12.
    Sagik, B. P., and Sorber, C. A., The survival of host-vector systems in domestic sewage treatment plants, Recombinant DNA Technical Bulletin 2:55–61 (1979).Google Scholar
  16. 13.
    Cohen, P. S., Pilsucki, R. W., Myhal, M. I., Rosen, C. A., Laux, D. C., and Cabelli, V. J., Fecal E. coli strains in the mouse GI tract, Recombinant DNA Technical Bulletin 2:106–13 (1979); cf. also Levine et al., supra note 1.Google Scholar
  17. 14.
    Cf. Newman, S. A., The “scientific” selling of rDNA, Environment 24:21–3, 53–7 1982Google Scholar
  18. 14a.
    Levy, S. B., and Marshall, B., Survival of E. coli host-vector systems in the human intestinal tract, Recombinant DNA Technical Bulletin 2:77–80 (1979).Google Scholar
  19. 15.
    Israel, M. A., Chan, H. W., Rowe, W. P., and Martin, M. A., Molecular cloning of polyoma virus DNA in Escherichia coli: Lambda phage vector system, Science 203:887–92 (1979).PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 16.
    Israel, M. A., Chan, H. W., Martin, M. A., and Rowe, W. P., Molecular cloning of polyoma virus DNA in Escherichia coli: Oncogenicity testing in hamsters, Science 205:1140–2 (1979).PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 17.
    Giles, K. L., and Whitehead, H. C. M., Reassociation of a modified mycorrhiza with the host plant roots (Pinus radiata) and the transfer of acetylene reduction activity, Plant and Soil 48:143–52 (1977).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 18.
    Curtiss, R., Letter to D. Fredrickson, Oct. 4, 1979, reprinted in U.S. DHEW-NIH, Recombinant DNA Research ,vol. 5, (March 1980), 339–40.Google Scholar
  23. 19.
    Rowe, W. P., Statement to the NIH recombinant DNA advisory committee, May 21–23, 1979, RAC Meeting Item #671.Google Scholar
  24. 20.
    For a review of this area, see The Environmental Implications of Genetic Engineering ,Staff Report of the Sub-Committee on Investigations and Oversight, Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives, 98th Congress, 2nd Session, Feb. 1984.Google Scholar
  25. 21.
    There is a reserved section in the regulations promulgated under the RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) for infectious wastes, but no regulations covering these wastes have yet appeared, nor are they likely to be issued in the near future.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Aubrey Milunsky and George J. Annas 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Ozonoff
    • 1
  1. 1.Environmental Health SectionBoston University School of Public HealthBostonUSA

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