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The Mutagenesis Moonshot: The Propitious Beginnings of the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society


The Mutagenesis Moonshot: The Propitious Beginnings of the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society

David M DeMarini. Environ Mol Mutagen.


A mutagenesis moonshot addressing the influence of the environment on our genetic wellbeing was launched just 2 months before astronauts landed on the moon. Its impetus included the discovery that X-rays (Muller HJ. [1927]: Science 64:84-87) and chemicals (Auerbach and Robson. [1946]: Nature 157:302) were germ-cell mutagens, the introduction of a growing number of untested chemicals into the environment after World War II, and an increasing awareness of the role of environmental pollution on human health. Due to mounting concern from influential scientists that germ-cell mutagens might be ubiquitous in the environment, Alexander Hollaender and colleagues founded in 1969 the Environmental Mutagen Society (EMS), now the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society (EMGS); Frits Sobels founded the European EMS in 1970. As Fred de Serres noted, such societies were necessary because protecting populations from environmental mutagens could not be addressed by existing scientific societies, and new multidisciplinary alliances were required to spearhead this movement. The nascent EMS gathered policy makers and scientists from government, industry, and academia who became advocates for laws requiring genetic toxicity testing of pesticides and drugs and helped implement those laws. They created an electronic database of the mutagenesis literature; established a peer-reviewed journal; promoted basic and applied research in DNA repair and mutagenesis; and established training programs that expanded the science worldwide. Despite these successes, one objective remains unfulfilled: identification of human germ-cell mutagens. After 50 years, the voyage continues, and a vibrant EMGS is needed to bring the mission to its intended target of protecting populations from genetic hazards. Environ. Mol. Mutagen. 61:8-24, 2020. © 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: environmental mutagen society; environmental mutagenesis; genetic toxicology; multi-disciplinary research.

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