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rDNA MAMMALIAN GENE TRANSFER TEST BAN URGED

Executive Summary

rDNA MAMMALIAN GENE TRANSFER TEST BAN URGED by Foundation on Economic Trends President Jeremy Rifkin in Aug. 21 and Aug. 23 letters to Natl. Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases Acting Director Bernard Talbot, MD. Rifkin proposes that NIH's Recombinant DNA Advisory Cmte. (RAC) place on its Oct. 29 agenda two related amendments to the NIH rDNA guidelines that would ban federal funding of mammalian genetic trait transfer research. The purpose of the amendments, he says, is to "protect the biological integrity of every mammalian species." One proposed amendment reads: "The NIH prohibits any experimentation involving the transfer of a genetic trait from a human being into the germ line of another mammalian species. The NIH also prohibits any experimentation involving the transfer of a genetic trait from any mammalian species into the germ line of a human being. Furthermore, the NIH considers any such experimentation involving the transfer of genetic traits between animal and human germ lines to be morally and ethically unacceptable." The second amendment, a variation on the first, recommends that NIH prohibit "any" experimentation involving the transfer of a genetic trait from one mammalian species into the germ line of another "unrelated" mammalian species. Rifkin defines unrelated to encompass any two species that cannot mate and produce "one generation" of offspring either in the wild or under pre-existing domestic breeding conditions. Adoption of the amendments would require NIH to discontinue funding of any current mammalian germ line transfer experimental research. Private funding of such research by an NIH grantee, the Aug. 21 letter suggests, would be grounds for an "immediate suspension" of all NIH research funds to the institution. Private companies who are signatories of licensing agreements with NIH funded institutions where the agreements require the licensee to adhere to NIH rDNA guidelines would also be subject to the ban (see related T&G). The amendment also proposes that RAC establish a working group to suggest any additional "protocols or guidelines" that might be necessary to ensure protection of the germ line of all species. "The crossing of species borders and the incorporation of genetic traits from one species directly into the germ line of another species represents a fundamental assault on the principle of species integrity and violates the right of every species to exist as a separate, identifiable creature," Rifkin argues. Rifkin contends that NIH and the Natl. Science Foundation are currently funding experiments by University of Pennsylvania researcher Ralph Brinster in which human growth hormone genes are being injected into sheep and pig embryos with the "express purpose of incorporating these human genes permanently into the germ line of these other mammalian species." He says the experiments are being conducted with the assistance and cooperation of the Dept. of Agriculture at its experimental station on Beltsville, Md.

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