Scientists have dealt with the ethical issues of
genetic research since they started their investigations. The
first issue they addressed was the safety of the research itself.
At an international meeting in 1975, they agreed that strict biological
and physical safeguards should be developed. In 1976, NIH released
specific safety guidelines created with public input. In this
1976 photo, Dr. DeWitt Stetten, Jr., Deputy Director for Science
at NIH, chaired the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee, which
drafted guidelines for scientists using the new techniques.
of the DeWitt Stetten, Jr., Museum of Medical Research
Courtesy of the DeWitt Stetten, Jr., Museum of Medical Research
||For example, host bacteria
used in recombinant
DNA experiments must not be able to survive outside the lab. Scientists
worldwide follow the NIH rules. At NIH, the 70-foot cabinets of a
biological level (BL) 4 facility physically "contained"
genetic experiments with the most secure equipment available to protect
the environment. Workers used rubber gloves to handle items, which
entered and exited the double-tiered system through sterilizing autoclaves.
In 1979 Drs. Wallace Rowe, Malcolm Martin, and their
colleagues of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
showed that such physical containment was unnecessary to protect
the escape of genetically altered organisms. Instead, biological
containment strategies proved sufficient. Currently, several oversight
committees and agencies regulate DNA and gene therapy procedures
Genetic research also includes the study of ethical
issues. For example, a component of the
Human Genome Project called Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications
(ELSI) strives to stimulate public and professional understanding
and discussion, and to develop policy options based on social and
But the most important voice is yours. As the revolution
in genetic research leads to tests for and prevention of genetic
diseases -- and possibly even cures -- it will be the publics
decision how to balance the needs of individuals with the good of
society as a whole.
part of the revolution!