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DNA Firm Withdraws Bid Amid Regulation Debates

By Leslie J. Smith

Anticipating the passage of a proposed ordinance which would strictly restrict DNA experimentation, Genetics Institute (GI) last week withdrew its application to convert an empty building in Somerville to a DNA research facility, Somerville officials said yesterday.

Eugene Brune, mayor of Somerville, said he believed the proposed ordinance was the reason the application was withdrawn and the company was "looking elsewhere."

The ordinance under consideration, similar to guidelines already adopted by Cambridge, would require all institutions using recombinant DNA technology to meet National Institutes of Health guidelines and would also forbid more dangerous experimentation requiring stricter P-3 and P-4 levels of containment.

GI officials were unavailable for comment yesterday. Mark Ptashne, chairman of the department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and an adviser to GI, refused comment.

Brune added that he had thought GI, a DNA manufacturing and research company, would be willing to work within these guidelines, but that company officials later told him they felt that the restrictions made it "not worth their while to come in" since future research would be limited.

"Nobody likes to stop research" but potentially dangerous research is not desirable, Brune said.

Somerville Alderman Francis P. Bakey, in whose ward the facility was planned, said yesterday he would prefer to ban all DNA research and did not support the GI proposal. He said GI officials told him that without his support they felt they "couldn't win" and were going to withdraw their application.

Bakey said he also understood the company was "looking elsewhere," adding, "I really would rather they didn't come here."

Cambridge first adopted guidelines on recombinant DNA research in 1977. The city is currently updating the guidelines to cover manufacturing involving DNA.

Cambridge city councilor Alfred E. Vellucci told the Somerville aldermen they should adopt tough DNA regulations at a public hearing last month. The GI facility would have been built near Cambridge.

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