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The Spirit of Asilomar

Samuel G. Dunn Lectureship in the Medical Humanities


The Spirit of Asilomar

Luis Campos, PhD

Baker College Chair for the History of Science, Technology, and Innovation
Department of History
Rice University

Thursday, September 14, 2023

12:00-1:00 pm

Room 3.222 Health Education Center (HEC)
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From the dawn of genetic engineering and the emergence of synthetic biology to the prospects for germline genome engineering today, biologists and their interlocutors have frequently referred to the 1975 meeting at Asilomar (on the potential biohazards of new recombinant DNA techniques) as a touchstone for contemporary issues. They debate whether “Asilomar” was a paradigmatic or exemplary event; recount how it unfolded and what it all meant for laboratory protocols, research agendas, scientific governance, and for society at large; and question whether “another Asilomar” meeting is necessary today to deal with the emergence of newer techniques in biotechnology. But with so many contested meanings does it make sense to speak of a unitary 'spirit of Asilomar'? In this talk, I will explore the resonances and tensions between the famed historical Asilomar (which saw itself as a future-directed event), and contemporary claims for its putative lessons. As memories, folk histories, and competing analyses intersect with the pressing demands of cutting-edge science, 'the spirit of Asilomar' remains a contested reference point, haunting science-and-society relations and the emergence of new prospects in biology today.

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The Spirit of Asilomar
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