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Share Those Cell Lines!

In the interview on the following pages, John Maddox raises an issue in the ethics of science about which we need more open discussion in quest of a better articulated consensus. Exactly what is the obligation of scientists to distribute cell lines, virus strains, DNA clones, and other critical research materials? In the physical sciences, one generally expects to be able to follow a published recipe with available materials and achieve the results claimed. In biology, however, it often happe

Joshua Lederberg

In the interview on the following pages, John Maddox raises an issue in the ethics of science about which we need more open discussion in quest of a better articulated consensus. Exactly what is the obligation of scientists to distribute cell lines, virus strains, DNA clones, and other critical research materials?

In the physical sciences, one generally expects to be able to follow a published recipe with available materials and achieve the results claimed. In biology, however, it often happens that a particular cell line or other clone is discovered that has special properties; as a result, no one can expect to retrace all the steps leading to it. The vast majority of cell lines have experienced some idiosyncratic mutations that lend unique qualities to them. In clinical investigation, patients with rare syndromes cannot be distributed or reproduced per se, but specimens from them may be crucial.

Many scientists therefore...

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