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The Asilomar Conference On Laboratory Precautions When Conducting Recombinant DNA Research Case Study includes a situation summary and six appendices. THERE ARE A LOT OF READING MATERIALS. We do not expect instructors and students to read through all our resources. Instead, we expect instructors to assign the most appropriate appendices to their students according to their classroom goals. The remaining materials can be used as optional reading assignments for students who want to explore the subject matter in more depth or from a different angle. Refer to Appendix G: Teaching Notes for more suggestions on how to use these materials.

Although the case study may be incorporated into your existing syllabi, IDEESE also offers teaching modules that help to focus the case on various dimensions of international ethics.

We also welcome feedback on our case materials. Please contact the Program Manager at mgoncalves @ pubpol . umass . edu with your comments or suggestions.



adobeCase-Situation Summary: This is an in-depth summary on an extensively controversial conference held at the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove California, in 1973, where approximately 100 leading scientists in the field convened to formulate safety measures to direct the development of recombinant DNA technology in the United States.  It resulted in subsequent discussions, including the conception of a proposed regulated guidelines and risk categories for rDNA experiments.  These procedures were adopted and widely used by the US Government today. 

adobeTable of Contents: If you choose to print the entire case study and appendices, this file can be used as a cover page.



adobeAppendix A: Chronology. The chronology documents the major developments in scientists' collective discussions of rDNA research, national government regulations of rDNA, and international standards relevant to the conduct of rDNA research from 1950 to 1981, when NIH made recommendations for the rDNA voluntary code of conduct.


adobeAppendix B: Views on the Asilomar Process. Appendix B outlines key views about rDNA research and the Asilomar process among scientists. Together, the statements can be used to guide a discussion about whether or not an Asilomar Conference approach would be effective today.


adobeAppendix C: Members of Groups Central to the Scientists’ Debates about rDNA Research 1973-76. Appendix C is a list of the major players in the debate surrounding rDNA. The lists include signers of of major letters and petitions and members of subcommittees and working groups.


adobeAppendix D: Biographical Notes on Scientists involved in the Asilomar Process. Appendix D contains brief biographical sketches for 42 of the key scientists involved with setting and debating the Asilomar Process.


adobeAppendix E: Ethical Evaluation of Recombinant DNA Research. Appendix E is a background essay exploring the ethical issues surrounding research using rDNA and genetic engineering. The essay outlines concerns ranging from equity, fairness, and justice to risks about physical well being and health to concern for transparency and accountability.


adobeAppendix F: Contemporaneous Perspectives on Recombinant DNA Research. Appendix F provides citations to editorials in scientific journals, comments by scientists, general coverage of the Asilomar Conference, and articles discussing ethical issues raised by rDNA research. Together, these resources paint a full picture of the complexity of the research.


adobeAppendix G: Teaching Notes: Appendix G exists for instructors. It outlines approaches for using the case study in individual and a series of classes, suggests recommended IDEESE modules for use, and provides general questions for use in classroom discussions. The appendix also contains two exercises which may be assigned to students: Exercise 1. Different Approaches to Regulating Scientific Work and Exercise 2: Thinking Through Scenarios of Danger,


adobeAppendix H: Useful Websites. Appendix G provides links to websites which may be useful for instructors and students who want to explore the Asilomar Conference and the controversies surrounding rDNA research in fuller detail.


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All IDEESE Case Study Materials are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.



Funding for the International Dimensions of Ethics Education in Science and Engineering Project comes from the National Science Foundation through grant number 0734887. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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