I am writing to you on behalf of the American members of the "Organizing Committee for an International Conference on
Recombinant DNA Molecules", a committee of the Assembly of Life Sciences of the National Research Council.
It has become evident recently that a new technique of molecular biology, the ability to construct recombinant DNA molecules,
could allow the design of new biological agents combining characteristics from different organisms. The potential for creation
of new agents of biological warfare is inherent in this technology. At the recent Conference on Recombinant DNA Molecules
in Asilomar, California, this question was not discussed because we were more concerned about the potential public health
consequences of current research using this methodology.
Now that the Asilomar Conference is behind us, we have become concerned whether existing International treaties cover the
use of modern techniques of biology to design new weapons of war. Specifically, we wish to know if the Biological Weapons
Convention is relevant. Because the Convention appears to ban any developmental work on biological weapons, it would seem
to ban use of recombinant DNA technology for such purposes. I refer to Article I which says:
Each State Party to this Convention undertakes never in any circumstances to develop . . . microbial or other biological agents,
or toxins whatever their origin or method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic,
protective or other peaceful purposes;
My question to you is whether it would be United States policy that Article I prohibits production of recombinant DNA molecules
for purposes of constructing biological weapons. I also wonder whether you would see any reason why other signatories would
not interpret the Convention in a similar fashion.
For your information the names and addresses of the other American members of the Committee are given below:
Dr. Paul Berg, Department of Biochemistry, Stanford University, School of Medicine, Stanford, California (Chairman of the
Dr. Maxine Singer, Laboratory of Biochemistry, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland 20014.
Dr. Richard Roblin, Infectious Disease Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Mass.