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City Council Approves DNA Research

CERB Proposals Become Law

By Joseph Dalton

The Cambridge City Council last night ensured the survival of recombinant DNA research within the city limits as it ratified the recommendations of the Cambridge Experimentation Review Board (CERB), the citizen's panel that recommended the controversial research be allowed to continue under special guidelines.

All but three of the 17 proposed amendments to the pending ordinance regulating recombinant DNA research passed at a special meeting of the Ordinance Committee before the regular council meeting. When Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci's special amendment completely banning the research failed, it was apparent the CERB recommendations would be approved.

Stormy Session

When the final vote came, Vellucci recognized the failure of his proposal, and joined with the other eight council members to ratify the recommendations unanimously.

Each of the eight CERB proposals passed through the Ordinance Committee meeting easily, and were quickly ratified at the full council meeting after Vellucci's proposal failed.

The recommendations basically assure that recombinant DNA research will continue in the city limits under basic National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines, supplemented by special strictures outlined in the CERB report.

The guidelines state that experiments may be performed up to a level that requires a p-3 lab and an EK-2 level of containment. EK-2 is a host bacteria used in recombinant DNA experiments. The CERB report precludes experiments that are too dangerous to be performed in this level of containment.

Other successful amendments stemming from the CERB report will create the Cambridge Biohazards Committee, a five-member board that will oversee all recombinant DNA experimentation conducted in Cambridge, and also provide for sanitary precautions on the premises of labs doing recombinant DNA research.

Vellucci, an outspoken opponent of recombinant DNA research, was irascible in defeat. Although Vellucci voted for the amendments, which now become law, he produced an affidavit explaining that his vote came only after the defeat of his own proposal.

He asked that the affidavit be placed on file to record his strong opposition to the new law.

Vellucci, who had invited Dapper O'Neil of the Boston City Council to the meeting as his special guest, also read from a letter he said he had sent to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54 (D-Mass.). The letter calls for a Congressional investigation of recombinant DNA research and requests the withdrawal of NIH funding for the research.


After a particularly vitriolic Vellucci outburst, Councilor Barbara J. Ackerman, who was chairman of the special sub-committee that reviewed the proposed CERB amendments and who had carefully guided them through Vellucci's opposition, said only that the "research was worthwhile and should be continued,"

"The city can't stop it. "If scientists can't do it in their labs they'll do it in their basements in Belmont," she added.

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