Letter from Maxine Singer to U.S. Representative Richard Ottinger
In this letter, written after her first congressional testimony on the issue of recombinant DNA research, Singer insisted
that NIH guidelines "afford confidence that potentially dangerous recombinants will not escape from laboratory situations,"
and that regulation through federal legislation was not required to ensure public and laboratory safety.
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2 (117,871 Bytes)
1977-01-26 (January 26, 1977)
United States House of Representatives
Original Repository: Library of Congress. Maxine Singer Papers
Reproduced with permission of the Library of Congress.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Risk, Regulation, and Scientific Citizenship: The Controversy over Recombinant DNA Research
Thank you for your recent letter commenting on my participation at the briefing on Recombinant DNA on December 14, 1976, under
the sponsorship of the Scientists Institute for Public Information. Perhaps you will recall that years ago we shared in a
car pool for our young children attending the Nationa1 Child Research Center.
As you indicated in your letter, you were unable to attend the briefing yourself. Enclosed is a copy of my statement. I am
sending it on by way of comment on your remarks printed in the Congressional Record of 19 January 1977 on this subject.
More specifically, I certainly share with your concern over the urgency of establishing firm and enforceable guidelines for
the conduct of this research within the private sector. For the past several months a Federal Interagency Committee, established
at the request of the President under the chairmanship of the Director, National Institutes of Health, has been studying the
available authorities. It is expected to report shortly, and to recommend whether or not existing agencies have sufficient
authority to promulgate and enforce such guidelines or whether legislative action is needed. It is my belief that the Congress
should await the report of this Committee before taking any action.
Further, I should like to point out certain additional problems raised by your statement. The relevant scientific evidence
is not consistent with the notion that any or all organisms containing recombinant DNA would either "have a capacity for
unlimited proliferation" or be uncontrollable. These are rather sweeping and unwarranted generalizations. The characterization
of E. coli in your statement is also not an accurate description of the particular E. coli being used for recombinant DNA
experiments, as discussed in my statement. The NIH Draft Environmental Impact Statement is not properly quoted in your remarks.
The numbers you quote were given as totally hypothetical numbers in order to exemplify a particular calculation and the Draft
EIS indicates that. The numbers are not presented as a description of the aggregate risk of an epidemic. In addition, the
NIH guidelines explicitly prohibit workers under treatment with antibiotics or antacids (or suffering from a variety of relevant
disorders) from carrying out recombinant DNA research.
It is in my view that far from being weak, the NIH guidelines are quite stringent and afford confidence that potentially dangerous
recombinants will not escape from laboratory situations.
You may know I was among the first scientists to call attention to the potential hazards of recombinant DNA research in 1973.
I have been involved in all of the discussions since then. If there is any way in which I can be of help in your consideration
of this issue call upon me.
Finally, while I am an employee of the National Institutes of Health, this letter represents my own personal opinion.