Plant breeders have long sought technologies to extend human control over nature. Early in the twentieth century, this led some to experiment with startlingly strange tools like x-ray machines, chromosome-altering chemicals, and radioactive elements. Contemporary reports celebrated these mutation-inducing methods as ways of generating variation in plants on demand. Speeding up evolution, they imagined, would allow breeders to genetically engineer crops and flowers to order. Creating a new food crop or garden 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 intervene in evolution. An immersive journey through the scientific and social worlds of midcentury genetics and plant breeding and a compelling exploration of American cultures of innovation, Evolution Made to Order provides vital historical context for current worldwide ethical and policy debates over genetic engineering.