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Two volumes of transcripts from a hearing on the uses of genetic engineering, Massachusetts, United States, 1976

In the early 1970s, genetic engineering was seen as an exciting new research tool by some scientists. Restrictions were placed on its use by the scientific community to prevent experiments that could create potentially harmful new bacteria and viruses. The general public became fearful of the possibility of human genetic engineering and new diseases. When Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, sought permission in 1976 to adapt a laboratory to carry out experiments in genetic engineering, the city council held public hearings. These hearings were the first opportunity for many non-scientists to debate such work publicly. In an age before the web the discussions were circulated by making available carbon copies of the transcripts. These quickly ran out and then photocopies were provided. Ultimately the laboratory modification was permitted, but more tightly regulated work was prohibited within the city.

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Glossary: genetic engineering

The techniques involved in altering the characteristics of one organism by inserting genes from another organism into its DNA.

Glossary: transcript

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Glossary: DNA

DNA stores the information, or blueprints, of every cell and is located in the genes. It is made up of two strands which form a double helix that is linked by hydrogen bonds. It was first described in 1953 by Francis Crick and James Watson.