Matthew Cobb


At Asilomar in 1975, scientists came together to voluntarily control the dangers represented by genetic engineering. They also sought to avoid governmental regulation — in the U.S. at least — and the decisions they adopted applied only to NIH-funded research, not the private sector. What is often seen as an example of responsible innovation can also viewed as a self-serving attempt to prevent federal control of research. Furthermore, the decisions taken at Asilomar allowed the rapid expansion of the biotech industry, something that some of those involved in the meeting secretly had an immense financial stake in. The meeting organizers also refused to allow discussion of gene therapy, environmental effects or bioweapons, three areas that were about to become of major significance. Asilomar was not only a highly unusual example of successful self-regulation, it was also a moment when fundamental questions were deliberately avoided. Did the failure allow the success?

View biography on

De Lange Conference


Scientia MS–8 | P.O. Box 1892 | Houston, TX 77251-1892