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Genentic Engineering. Scientists are growing more adept at shifting genes from one plant or animal to another. As their skill sharpens, so will its effect on people's lives -- from having children to getting a job. This is raising some basic ethical, religious, and legal questions.

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`THE residents of this community feel that they are being used as guinea pigs for the rest of the world,'' said Glenn Church of the Action League for Ecologically Responsible Technology. Mr. Church, of Tulelake, Calif., was among local citizens this summer who opposed a University of California-sponsored genetic experiment in a potato field about four miles south of the Oregon border.

Developed by scientists Steven Ludlow and Nickolas Panopoulos at the University of California at Berkeley, the test called for spraying a small outdoor patch of potato plants with a strain of bacteria to see whether it would inhibit frost formation, as hoped.

The test was not made. It may never be. Under pressure and threat of lawsuits from local environmentalists, state consumer groups, and a national anti-genetic engineering lobby, the Foundation on Economic Trends, the university backed off in late August.

University spokesman Ron Kolb said the experimenters will consider further studies on the potential environmental impact and other possible dangers posed by the bacteria and more thoroughly discuss the ramifications for the town of Tulelake and surrounding communities.

Did this genetic experiment pose any real dangers to this small California community?

Perhaps not. When it first granted a permit to proceed last spring, the United States Environmental Protection Agency said the test would ``pose minimal risk to public health or environment.'' But the locals were extremely skeptical.

Given the some of the history of genetics-related experiments, these qualms are understandable.

Take the case of the gypsy moth. Some of its eggs were brought to the United States by French entomologist Leopold Trouvelot. His long-range goal seemed worthy -- to crossbreed the insects with silkworm moths to produce a disease-resistant silkworm for his native France.

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