Paul Berg (1926 - Present)
Paul Berg witnessed firsthand the history of recombinant
DNA research and regulation, having been in the forefront of both
movements since he was a young man. He became a professor of
biochemistry at Stanford University School of Medicine in 1959, when
he was 33. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences before
he was 40, and he gained early recognition and influence when he
delineated the key steps in which DNA produces proteins. Berg was
awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1980 for his work with DNA.
In the mid-1970s, the National Academy of Sciences asked Berg to
explore the safety of recombinant
DNA technology. He responded with the historic "Berg letter,"
calling for a moratorium on recombinant
DNA research until safety issues could be addressed. He was one
of the key organizers of the international forum on recombinant
DNA technology, the Asilomar Conference, which took place in
February of 1975. One hundred leading scientists met at the
conference to discuss the potential risks of gene-splicing
experiments. The ensuing dialogue resulted in the National
Institutes of Health guidelines published a year later, a
milestone of responsible self-regulation in science.
Berg's laboratory continued to work with recombinant
DNA techniques throughout the 1980s. In 1985, Berg became
director of the New Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine.
In 1991, Berg was named head of the NIH's influential Human
Genome Project Scientific Advisory Committee.
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