Nanotechnology Now recently posted “Public Distrust of Science Made Cambridge the Biotech Capital of the World.” The post summarizes an article on blog.wired.com which in turn comments on the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts’ efforts to deal with the emerging science surrounding recombinant DNA back in the 1970’s. The article intimates that Cambridge’s success in attracting biotechnology companies was due in part to the extensive public discussion regarding EHS issues the City fostered back when rDNA labs were first opening in Cambridge.
Although the Nanotechnology Now post does not mention it, the City eventually passed a moratorium on rDNA research and development, followed by its own unique rDNA ordinance in 1977 which essentially adopted NIH guidelines for working with rDNA. (Both have since been amended/updated). Other nearby communities soon followed Cambridge’s lead: Newton, Bedford, Worcester, Boston, Somerville, Waltham, Woburn, and Malden. For those who are interested, Cambridge’s Director of Public Health published a helpful article outlining the history, intent, and possible implications of Cambridge’s rDNA ordinance which can be found here.
For those watching nanotechnology related events in Cambridge, the City’s Director of Public Health is also convening a six month advisory board process to provide guidance to the City regarding whether or not to regulate nanotechnology research and development within City limits. While there are no current authoritative and comprehensive EHS guidelines for nanotechnology as there were with rDNA, it is a good possibility that Cambridge will attempt a similar approach with nanotechnology.