Publish Date: April 18, 1977
Cover Story: Tinkering with Life
How TIME Covered the News: Though DNA had been discovered two decades earlier, it was still a cryptic code that hid the basic facts of life. But scientists had already began to modify and manipulate DNA, experimenting with how to convert two existing genes into a new sequence that would not otherwise be found in biological organisms. It was these methods of creating recombinant DNA that both enthralled scientists and terrified the public, fearful of what would happen when mankind started tinkering with the building blocks of life.
“Science is not interested in pursuing such bizarre fantasies; the real advances are exciting enough. About five years ago, California scientists learned how to combine genes from different organisms, regardless of how low or high they are on the evolutionary scale. Though the researchers added only one or two new genes to a bacterium’s collection of thousands of genes, the creation of such hybrid molecules was a stunning feat. The accomplishment seemed to breach one of nature’s more inviolable barriers.”