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From Biological Revolution to Biotech Age: Plant Biotechnology in British Agriculture since 1950

Holmes, Matthew Robert (2017) From Biological Revolution to Biotech Age: Plant Biotechnology in British Agriculture since 1950. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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The modern Biotech Age possesses a very particular set of characteristics: the use of recombinant DNA technology, a close relationship between academic science and industry and, in Britain, public hostility to genetically modified crops. Yet despite increasingly widespread recognition among historians of science that biotechnology has a long and multi-faceted history, there is no thorough account of the history of plant biotechnology in British agriculture. Harnessing previously unexamined archival sources at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), John Innes Centre (JIC) and the Science Museum, this thesis uncovers a number of largely unexamined plant biotechnologies and discusses their uptake in British agriculture since the mid-twentieth century. In doing so, it raises several new insights for historians. Chapters One and Two demonstrate how two commercially successful biotechnologies, industrial hybridization and mutation breeding, found agricultural applications by careful integration with existing industrial systems. Chapter Three shows how plant cell fusion became a genuine alternative to recombinant DNA technology during the 1960s and ‘70s. Chapter Four counters the standard narrative of a move from the morphological to the molecular in biological analysis with a case study of electrophoresis and other classificatory technologies. Chapter Five demonstrates the importance of Cold War ideology on the development of biotechnology with a case study of the graft hybrid in British horticulture. Finally, Chapter Six examines the GM controversy in Britain and considers what broader lessons about public attitudes to biotechnology can be taken from the debate. Taken together, this thesis demonstrates that a unique combination of plant biotechnologies emerged in mid-twentieth-century Britain. These biotechnologies succeeded or failed to influence British agriculture thanks to a combination of technological, economic and ideological factors. The Biotech Age could, at many points since 1950, have emerged in a very different way with very different characteristics.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science
Depositing User: Mr Matthew Holmes
Date Deposited: 04 Dec 2017 10:46
Last Modified: 04 Dec 2017 10:46
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/18900

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