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Evolution Made to Order: Plant Breeding and Technological Innovation in Twentieth Century America (Hardback)
  • Evolution Made to Order: Plant Breeding and Technological Innovation in Twentieth Century America (Hardback)

Evolution Made to Order: Plant Breeding and Technological Innovation in Twentieth Century America (Hardback)

Hardback 320 Pages / Published: 16/12/2016
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In the mid-twentieth century, American plant breeders, frustrated by their dependence on natural variation in creating new crops and flowers, eagerly sought technologies that could extend human control over nature. Their search led them to celebrate a series of strange tools: an x-ray beam directed at dormant seeds; a drop of chromosome-altering colchicine on a flower bud; a piece of radioactive cobalt in a field of growing crops. According to scientific and popular reports of the time, these mutation-inducing methods would generate variation on demand, in turn allowing breeders to genetically engineer crops and flowers to order. Creating a new crop or flower would soon be as straightforward as innovating any other modern industrial product. In Evolution Made to Order, Helen Anne Curry traces the history of America's pursuit of tools that could speed up evolution. Focusing on three key technologies x-rays, colchicine, and radioisotopes it is an immersive journey through the scientific and social worlds of mid-century genetics and plant breeding and a compelling exploration of American cultures of innovation. As Curry reveals, the creation of genetic technologies was deeply entangled with other areas of technological innovation from electromechanical to chemical to nuclear. Providing vital historical context for current worldwide ethical and policy debates over genetic engineering, Evolution Made to Order is an important study of biological research and innovation in America that will interest modern biotechnologists, biologists, and breeders, as well as historians of science and technology.

Publisher: The University of Chicago Press
ISBN: 9780226390086
Number of pages: 320
Weight: 522 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 25 mm

"In her book Evolution Made to Order, Curry elucidates three major innovations in American plant breeding techniques during the
20th century--the use of X-rays, colchicine, and radioisotopes to bring about mutations and speed up evolution. Along the way, she introduces us to important plant breeders and scientists, including Albert Blakeslee, David Burpee, Bernard Nebel, Mable Ruttle, Arnold Sparrow, Lewis Stadler, Ralph Singleton, and others who strove to feed the world."--Quarterly Review of Biology
"Early and mid-twentieth-century geneticists and plant breeders dreamed of finding ways to speed up evolution. Evolution Made to Order uses a diverse set of sources, ranging from archives and newspapers to seed catalogs, to explore how and why American researchers hoped to use radiation to produce new commercial plant varieties. Curry's innovative approach to the history of biotechnology deserves a wide audience among historians of science, technology, and medicine."--Audra Wolfe, author of Competing with the Soviets
"Curry offers a fascinating historical journey through the American scientific and social worlds of induced-mutation work. Through extensive research, she convincingly establishes that biologists' obsession with plant mutation breeding did not begin with molecular biology and recombinant DNA but, rather, with the tools of chemical mutagenesis and radiobiology. Her lively account resurrects unknown actors, important institutional contexts, and forgotten cultural fads, and her thoughtful consideration of the successes and failures of their collective scientific endeavors provides some much-needed historical context for current ethical and policy debates over genetic engineering. Evolution Made to Order is a narrative account that is both accessible and scholarly. It makes an important contribution to the historiographies of biology and technology, and treats with appropriate parity the roles of its scientific and amateur historical actors. It is, in a word, brilliant."--Karen Rader, Virginia Commonwealth University

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