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Scientist Returns Research Grant to Show Concern about Dangers of Genetically Engineered Organisms

Jay Blowers
"NBIAP News Report." U.S. Department of Agriculture (December 1994)

John Fagan, a professor of molecular biology at Maharishi International University (MIU) in Fairfield, Iowa, has announced that he is returning nearly $614,000 in current grant money to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He is also withdrawing his request for an additional $1.25 million in support to protest what he reportedly sees as "rampant and universal genetic tinkering with plants and animals and the release of these novel organisms into the environment."

According to a report in the November 16, 1994 Washington Post, Fagan believes that even with the many layers of review by university biosafety committees and by the government, genetic engineering research is irresponsible given how little is known about the long-term consequences of the release of genetically engineered organisms into the environment.

Although he is associated with a university that was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the guru of transcendental meditation, Fagan maintains that the decision to return the research funds was not the result of spiritualism. It was the culmination of a long-held concern about the seemingly indiscriminate genetic manipulations being performed on plants and laboratory animals, and the potential for spread to other organisms. Fagan has called for a 50-year moratorium on certain types of applications of genetically engineered organisms.

Fagan holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University. He spent seven years doing research on enzymes in the body that neutralize cancer-causing substances at the National Cancer Institute before joining the faculty at MIU in 1976.

In an editorial in the November 21, 1994 Washington Post, entitled "A Scientist's Qualms," the writer raises once again the specter of Jurassic Park and asks "can a genetically engineered or mis-engineered organism 'pollute' the environment?" The editorial points out that Dr. Fagan's position is not that of opposition to genetic manipulation per se, but rather of caution in the face of the industry's momentum and an absence of coherent oversight. It concludes with the statement, "his gesture (in returning the grant), and the attention it has drawn, could flash a useful yellow light on the stampede."

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