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How to Regulate Biotechnology?

In the editorial "Regulating Biotechnology," March 10, the author endorses the Bush administration's proposal to relax regulation of biotechnology and repeats the specious logic which has been used to justify this truly reckless act.

The issue is the impact of genetically engineered microorganisms upon the environment. Unlike naturally occurring organisms, which have undergone a step-by-step process of mutual adaptation and adjustment to their environment, genetically engineered microorganisms are a bolt from the blue. We simply cannot be sure in advance which of them may destabilize the complex web of ecological relations. David Keppel, Essex, Conn.

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The author compares traditional breeding methods to new biotechnological engineering, questioning the need to tightly regulate the latter and not the former. In the comparison, though, the major difference between these two methods is overlooked in order to make biotechnology appear very similar to older accepted breeding practices. But it is precisely because of this difference that biotechnology needs new and different regulations.

The author implies that these two methods are similar except in the method of transfer of desirable genes. Actually, traditional breeding is restricted to the transfer of genes within a species and its close relatives. This is because organisms not closely related fail to produce fertile offspring, as is necessary in a breeding program. Biotechnology, however, has overcome the species barrier and can transfer genes between virtually any organisms.

The impact, in biological terms, is that breeding is only able to mimic gene transfer that is already occurring in nature, while biotechnology is able to surpass the species barrier by using gene transfer that has no natural precedent.

Whatever forms of regulation we choose, we must be aware that what we are doing is, in fact, very new and different from past breeding programs. Ted Schuur, Salina, Kan. No roads lead to Nome

Regarding the article "Digital Audio Broadcasting Plays to Global Audience," March 9: Digital audio broadcasting may be wonderful, but it won't, by itself, make it possible for a motorist to "drive from Nome, Alaska, to Santiago, Chile, and listen to the same station at the same frequency," as one source in the article suggests. You see, there is no road to Nome. Michael S. Taylor Fairbanks, Alaska Welfare dollars are needed

Regarding the front page article "Welfare-Reform Sentiment Sweeps Through Statehouses," March 6: It's unfortunate that during these hard times when people are looking for a scapegoat, they have resorted to using the politically weakest groups available - women and children.

As a California welfare recipient and mother of two, I receive less than $8,000 a year. That hardly puts me "well above the poverty level," as Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation implies the California benefits do. In wages, that computes to a paltry $4 an hour, which barely covers child care for two, not to mention rent, utilities, transportation, food, clothing, and medical costs. For many, including myself, that welfare check is the only thing that keeps us from joining the ranks of homeless Amer ican families.

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Instead of getting tough on women and children, as California's Gov. Pete Wilson threatens to do by cutting benefits again, why doesn't he go after the fathers who are responsible in part for the needs of AFDC families? Janet Wright, Goleta, Calif.

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