A decade ago, when biologists learned how to alter the genetic makeup of microorganisms, they voluntarily called a halt to such research until its potential dangers could be assessed. It was the first time in history that scientists agreed to a voluntary moratorium on research that might be harmful.
The fear at that time was that a new organism might be created in the laboratory that would escape into the environment and devastate the world. After several years of further research, however, it became apparent that the possibility of a catastrophe from genetic engineering is remote, and all investigations since have confirmed that. The scientists who worried about the problem in the first place and backed the moratorium on research have long since come to the conclusion that experiments in genetic engineering should proceed. They hold great promise for social good.
So it is altogether proper for the Environmental Protection Agency to have approved the first open-air experiment with genetically engineered bacteria, and it is time for the courts to call a halt to the obstructionist, baseless challenges brought by Jeremy Rifkin, the self-styled environmentalist, in an effort to halt this work. There is no reason to fear the science-fiction scenario of mutant bacteria destroying the environment.