Telegram from Paul Berg to Congressmen Paul G. Rogers and Harley Staggers
Number of Image Pages:
1 (72,975 Bytes)
1977-10-17 (October 17, 1977)
Rogers, Paul G.
United States House of Representatives
Original Repository: Stanford University Libraries. Department of Special Collections and University Archives. Paul Berg Papers
Reproduced with permission of Paul Berg.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Recombinant DNA Technologies and Researchers' Responsibilities, 1973-1980
October 17, 1977
Three years ago I and others expressed concern about the indiscriminate use of recombinant DNA (RD) techniques and recommended
that certain experiments be deferred until the question of potential hazards and how to deal with them could be better evaluated.
More than three years of experience and a more in-depth analysis of these questions has led me to change my assessment of
the risks. There is virtually unanimous agreement amongst experts in infectious disease and epidemiology that the enfeebled
strain of E. coli K12 used for RD experiments cannot be transformed into an infectious or pathogenic organism or even into
an human inhabitant by a bit of foreign DNA. Specially modified derivatives of strain K12 and plasmid or bacteriophage vectors
that are now available provide additional assurance of safety. Hence, my initial concern that RD research could result in
the widespread dissemination of novel organisms and create potential hazards for man and the environment is not supported
by presently available evidence. On the other hand RD methods have led to impressive scientific advances that promise important
revelations about the function of genes in health and disease and bring closer the reality of practical benefits from this
In view of the rapid advance of scientific knowledge by RD techniques and the as yet only speculative nature of the hazards,
I regard the approach taken in HR7879 as unwarranted and unnecessary. It is my judgment that the proposed legislation is also
unwise since, if enacted, HR7857 will surely inhibit rather than foster basic research on important biological and medical
problems; consequently, it will delay the inevitable rewards for the public welfare. In my view the application or modification
of already existing mechanisms that guard the public against known hazards is a more prudent way of dealing with any remaining
anxieties about RD research.