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.