Rosovsky Approves DNA Research Lab
Dean Rosovsky yesterday asked the Corporation to authorize construction of a laboratory for research on recombinant DNA.
Several Harvard biologists have criticized the proposed research, citing the possibility that a disease-causing agent could be created and communicated to human beings.
The experiments will study control mechanisms in the DNA of higher-level organisms. Researchers will transfer DNA from warm-blooded animals into a strain of E-coli, bacteria they claim rarely survives outside the laboratory.
The project will operate at the next to highest level of research precautions, which calls for filters on air leaving the laboratory and a system that prevents air in the laboratory from escaping when the doors are opened.
Walter Gilbert '53, American Cancer Society Professor of Molecular Biology, who will be one of the researchers, said yesterday the research could lead to the synthesis of such human hormones as insulin, which is presently taken from cows and pigs.
The Branton Committee, which was composed of Harvard scientists, studied the proposed laboratory plans and agreed that such a facility could safely be installed in the Biological Laboratories.
The Committee on Research Policy, chaired by Francis M. Pipkin, associate dean of the Faculty for the Colleges, approved experiments with recombinant DNA on June 4.
"People didn't think that the danger of experimenting was substantial enough to prevent experimentation," Pipkin said yesterday.
"There is no evidence from which to decide. It's never been done, so we don't know its consequences," Pipkin added. "There is no reason to think that it is ultra-dangerous."
The committee also decided to continue its review of similar research issues during the next year, considering what it termed "the circumstances which might ever justify placing limitations on the pursuit of knowledge."
Ruth Hubbard '45, professor of Biology, said yesterday she opposed any plans for conducting recombinant DNA research using E-coli in the Bio Labs.
"The work hasn't been proven not to be a health hazard," she said.
Hubbard added she fears researchers will create a pathogenic form of E-coli, that might then be carried out of the laboratory.
"No one knows why or how E-coli becomes pathogenic when it does," she said.
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