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Evolution Made to OrderPlant Breeding and Technological Innovation in Twentieth-Century America$
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Helen Anne Curry

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226390086

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226390116.001.0001

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An Unsolved Problem

An Unsolved Problem

(p.27) 2 An Unsolved Problem
Evolution Made to Order

Helen Anne Curry

University of Chicago Press

This chapter describes the attention given to mutation—a term increasingly used to designate an observed change in a single characteristic inherited in a typical Mendelian pattern—within the burgeoning field of experimental genetics in the 1910s and 1920s. It charts the work of several biologists whose research linked x-ray exposure to the appearance of new heritable variations and eventually to induced mutation. In the early 1920s, the biologist James Mavor demonstrated that x-ray irradiation of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster sometimes led to the production of genetic irregularities such as chromosome aberrations. Shortly thereafter, the geneticist Lewis Stadler began a research program designed to demonstrate similar effects in Zea mays, the maize (corn) plant. Stadler’s experiments led him to the investigation of yet another apparent effect of x-ray irradiation: the production of mutations. Yet he was not the only experimenter who aimed to pin down evidence of such an effect. The botanist Thomas Harper Goodspeed and chemist Axel Olson independently began x-ray experimentation in January 1927, hoping to discover the effect of induced mutation in Nicotiana tabacum, the tobacco plant. Both Stadler and Goodspeed and Olson would be beaten to the announcement of their results by still another researcher.

Keywords:   induced mutation, genetics, Drosophila melanogaster, Zea mays, James Mavor, Lewis Stadler, Thomas Harper Goodspeed, Axel Olson, Nicotiana tabacum, x-ray

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