Members of the Cambridge Biohazards Committee (CBC) yesterday conducted an inspection tour of the new $600,000 University special containment laboratory for recombinant DNA research.
Macy D. Koehlor, University biohazards safety officer, led the committee through the recently constructed lab, explaining the safety precautions taken to prevent the escape of potentially hazardous microorganisms from the lab.
If the committee approves the safety features, the recombinant DNA researchers will then be allowed to use the p-3 containment facility. Because one of the members of the committee could not attend the inspection, the CBC will issue a decision later in the week, Donald P. Dressler, chairman of the CBC, said yesterday.
Dressler said he thought the precautions seemed extensive, but added, "One has to take into account even improbable accidents such as senseless acts of vandalism."
Members of the committee questioned Koehlor closely about procedures to be used in case of accidents and about the waste disposal system, which filters all waste draining out of the lab.
The University's announcement of its plans to build this laboratory more than two years ago sparked a bitter dispute over the safety of recombinant DNA research, resulting in a temporary moratorium on all such research in Cambridge in the spring of 1976.
Harvard's time and money may all have been in vain, however. New guidelines proposed by the National Institutes of Health which would go into effect in two months significantly reduce the safety restrictions required for recombinant DNA research. If the new guidelines go into effect as expected, none of the recombinant DNA experiments Harvard scientists now plan would require use of the new building.
Walter Gilbert '53, American Cancer Society Professor of Molecular Biology and the faculty supervisor of the labs, said yesterday that although the new guidelines would make a p-3 facility unnecessary at this time, he hopes scientists will find some use for the lab.
Researchers can still grow animal cells and viruses there, and do some less restricted experiments in the lab, Gilbert said. "It'll be used anyway--we hope," he added.
At present, two researchers have asked to work in the new facility--Gilbert, who will continue his experiments with insulin, and Helga Doty, a senior research fellow in Biochemistry