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Asilomar Revisited: Lessons for Today?

Science  03 Mar 2000:
Vol. 287, Issue 5458, pp. 1584-1585
DOI: 10.1126/science.287.5458.1584

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PACIFIC GROVE, CALIFORNIA-- Scientists, lawyers, historians, and ethicists met here last month to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the so-called Asilomar conference on recombinant DNA molecules and to discuss what lessons could be learned from the "Asilomar process" and, specifically, whether it could help resolve today's biotech controversies. Participants concluded that continuing public concerns about the applications of genetic manipulation and the increasing ties between scientists and industry make it inappropriate now for scientists alone to take on the task of analyzing the risks of their work while setting aside the ethical issues, as they did a quarter-century ago at Asilomar. Nevertheless, as they debated the genetic modification of crops, gene therapy, and the use of genomic information, the participants identified instances in which society might have benefited if scientists had actively contributed to a public debate about the safety of their work.