berg paul 2004Biochemist Paul Berg, who shared the 1980 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1926. Berg is best known for his pioneering research with recombinant DNA — work that set the stage for modern genetic engineering — yet in 1974, he joined other scientists in calling for a moratorium on such research until its risks could be evaluated. The following year he organized the Asilomar Conference, which brought together 100 leading scientists to discuss these risks, resulting in the publication of National Institute of Health guidelines. This was an early application of the “precautionary principle,” which urges scientists and corporations to evaluate risks carefully before implementing new technologies. Berg is also a board member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which was founded in 1945 by scientists of the Manhattan Project to urge international control of nuclear weapons and energy.
“Novel technologies and ideas that impinge on human biology and their perceived impact on human values have renewed strains in the relationship between science and society.” —Paul Berg