THE DNA STORY: A Documentary History of Gene Cloning by James D. & John Tooze Watson

THE DNA STORY: A Documentary History of Gene Cloning

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Watson, director of the estimable Cold Spring Laboratory on Long Island, and Tooze, secretary of the European Molecular Biology Organization, have combined forces to compile a documentary chronicle of the past decade's frenzied attempts, in the US and Europe, to legislate control of recombinant DNA research. The stage was set at the Gordon Conference in New Hampshire in 1973, when new methods of gene-splicing were discussed which would make it relatively easy to combine DNAs from different species. The scientists viewed certain experiments with alarm--those involving tumor viruses, for example--and soon the famous Berg et al. letter was written to Science and the National Academy of Sciences, leading to the (second) Asilomar conference in 1974. After that, controversy, publicly-aired differences, and media madness took off, perhaps propelled by some prevailing anti-scientific attitudes. As momentum built, so did the urge for legislation. By 1977 the scientists themselves began to feel that a federal law would be preferable to individually-legislated state or county controls. (Cambridge's Mayor Vellucci, you may recall, made nation-wide copy.) Watson, one of the early whistle-blowers, soon regretted raising the issue; his remarks and Tooze's become increasingly acerbic and glum as the book moves along. The documents also speak for themselves--amazingly well. Sandwiched between the turgid legal or government prose are Michael Rogers' Rolling Stone Asilomar piece, some of Watson's own writings, a couple of letters, and a speech by Rockefeller University's Norton Zinder which are gems of clarity, indignation, and practical politics. The opposition is well represented by scientists Sinsheimer and Chargaff as well as Science for the People and environmental groups. The book's final section provides background for the scientifically unsophisticated. All in all, a surprisingly absorbing work--revealing the self-corrective capacity of scientists and, even more perhaps, their political coming-of-age.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1981
Publisher: W. H. Freeman