In February 1975, a group of leading scientists, physicians, and
policymakers convened at Asilomar, California, to consider the safety of
proceeding with recombinant DNA research. The excitement generated by the
promise of this new technology was counterbalanced by concerns regarding
dangers that might arise from it, including the potential for accidental
release of genetically modified organisms into the environment. Guidelines
developed at the conference to direct future research endeavors had
several consequences. They permitted research to resume, bringing to an
end the voluntary moratorium that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS)
had instituted several months earlier. They also served to illustrate that
the scientific community was capable of self-governance, thereby securing
public trust and persuading Congress not to institute legislative
restrictions. Finally, they underscored the importance of weighing
unforeseen risks inherent in some research against potential benefits that
may arise from these same endeavors.
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