The Cambridge City Council tonight voted stringent safetly regulations over genetic research at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, setting a national precedent of local control over scientific research.
The city ordinance, adopted unanimously by the nine-member council, is more restrictive than the guideliness issued last July by the National Institutes of Health.
A last-minute proposal by Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci to ban much of the genetic research altogether failed, 6 to 3.
"I just hope we don't have any disasters here," said Velluci, who has made a political career out of fighting the universities in what is otherwise a blue-collar city.
The research involves "recombinant DNA," deoxyribonucleic acids - which carry an organism's genetic information - of two types of organisms are combinaned and the reactions is studied to learn how genes work.
Many scientists and laymen fear that a new organism might be created which, if it escaped into the atmosphere, might unleash an unknown disease.
The council had imposed a moratorium on DNA research since the NIH guidelines were issued last July.
The vote here was the first in the nation to impose restrictions on DNA research. In state legislatures and city councils from New Jersey to California the question had been debated, but until now all the votes have allowed the work to go on.
Proponents say the research is safe and may lead to cures for diseases such as cancer. Opponents say it is hazardous to the public and tampers immorally with the creation of life.
NIH guidelines grade DNA research laboratories from "P-I," simiplat to an ordinary high school lab, to "P-4," enclosed by a air and shower chambers.
What NIH deems potentially dangerous and unpredictable experiments, including all those using DNA from mammals, are required to be conducted in at least P-3 labs. MIT has a P-3 lab and Harvard is constrcuting one.
The guidelines also require that the host organisms in some of the dangerous experiments be specially mutated so that they have only a minute chance - one in 100 million - of surviving outside the laboratory environment.
The Cambridge ordinance goes futher, however, by outlawing all P-4 research and requiring that all P-3 research use the altered organisms, known as EK2.
The need to mutate the host organisms is seen as all the greater because almost all the nosts used in DNA experiments to date are E. coli bacteria, which in their normal state live in te intestine of human. The fear is that a genetically altered E. coli escaping from a lab might return to intestines through the water supply.
Geneticists at the two universities complain that the EK2 variant is difficult to keep alive for experimenting and the NIH certification of EK2 cultures is cumbersome and time-consuming.
"Certainly we can live with the city regulations, but there will be some experiments that will be virtually impossible to do," said Harvard biologist Daniel Branton, earlier.