The possible dangers and potential benefits of a new kind of genetic research will be debated at a meeting in Science Center A this afternoon.
The Committee on Research Policy of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which organized the forum, will decide next week whether to recommend that Harvard construct a facility for the controversial research, Edward L. Pattullo, director of the Center for Behavioral Sciences and executive secretary of the committee, said yesterday.
The new laboratory technique in "recombinant DNA research" involves transplanting genes from one organism to another, thus in effect creating entirely new organisms.
Richard C. Lewontin, professor of biology and one of the scientists scheduled to speak today at 2 p.m., said yesterday that the important question is whether such research will create "potentially very infectious and dangerous organisms."
Matthew S. Meselson and Ruth Hubbard, professors of biology, and Mark S. Ptashne, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, also will speak at the meeting, Pattullo said.
"The immediate question," Pattullo said, "is whether Harvard should approve the building of this containment facility on the third floor of the Bio Labs." Much of the debate at Harvard and nationally has centered on how stringently isolated such facilities must be in order to ensure that no new, potentially dangerous organisms escape.
The risks and benefits of recombinant DNA research first received wide public attention early last year when more than 100 scientists meeting at the Asilomar Center in California recommended a voluntary, temporary ban on such research.
Tomorrow's meeting follows a similar forum organized last April by the Committee on the Regulation of Hazardous Biological Agents. At that time Hubbard wrote the committee, "I am frankly terrified at the idea of playing evolution, because it is an exceedingly dangerous game whose rules we will not know until it is too late."
The Committee on Research Policy, which is chaired by Francis M. Pipkin, associate dean of the Faculty for the College, will send its final recommendation to Dean Rosovsky on June 4, Pattullo said.