Dr. Tur-Kaspa featured on “National Geographic" on the DNA Revolution

August 2016

“How the DNA Revolution Is Changing Us”


The ability to quickly alter the code of life has given us unprecedented power over the natural world. Should we use it?

“…It has been more than 40 years since scientists discovered how to cut nucleotides from the genes of one organism and paste them into the genes of another to introduce desired traits. Molecular biologists were thrilled by the possibilities this practice, referred to as recombinant DNA, opened for their research. From the start, however, scientists also realized that if they could transfer DNA between species, they might inadvertently shift viruses and other pathogens too. That could cause unanticipated diseases, for which there would be no natural protection, treatment, or cure.

This possibility frightened no one more than the scientists themselves. In 1975, molecular biologists from around the world gathered at the Asilomar Conference Grounds, along California’s central coast, to discuss the challenges presented by this new technology. The group emerged from the meeting having agreed to a series of safeguards, including levels of laboratory security that escalated along with the potential risks posed by the experiments.

It soon became clear that the protections seemed to work and that the possible benefits were enormous. Genetic engineering began to improve the lives of millions. Diabetics, for example, could count on steady supplies of genetically engineered insulin, made in the lab by placing human insulin genes into bacteria and then growing it in giant vats. Genetically engineered crops, yielding more and resisting herbicides and insects, began to transform much of the world’s agricultural landscape…”

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