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February 15: A Geneticist and Ethicist

Lawrence Bush
February 15, 2017

Molecular biologist Maxine Frank Singer, who raised early alarms about the ethical issues involved in recombinant DNA research and organized the 1975 Asilomar Conference, which issued guidelines for dealing with those issues, was born in New York on this date in 1931. Singer was president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington from 1988 until 2002, where she established the Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie’s first new department in more than eighty years. Her early research into DNA and RNA helped shape modern genetic science and recombinant technology. Singer was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1992, and has received honorary doctorates from Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Brandeis, and New York University, among other prestigious institutions of learning.

“Singer remained a leading voice in the vigorous debate over genetic engineering as a member of NIH advisory committees on recombinant DNA and as an expert witness before Congress. She has been a media commentator on matters of science and society, including the need for public investment in the human genome project, the uses of genetic engineering in agriculture and medicine, and the relationship between religion and evolutionary science.”--U.S. National Library of Medicine

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.