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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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Speeding Up Evolution

Speeding Up Evolution

(p.38) 3 Speeding Up Evolution
Evolution Made to Order

Helen Anne Curry

University of Chicago Press

In July 1927 the geneticist Hermann Muller announced the results of a series of experiments in which he claimed to have induced mutations in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster by exposing the flies to x-rays. This chapter briefly recounts the history of Muller’s induced mutation experiments before exploring the ways in which these experiments—as well as those conducted by Stadler and Goodspeed and Olson—were subsequently discussed in the scientific and popular press. The celebratory coverage of x-ray research in the late 1920s and early 1930s cast biologists and breeders as having achieved unprecedented control over the form and evolution of living things, control that would soon produce dramatic changes in agricultural production and might also address concerns about eugenic improvement and spur industrial progress. A typical characterization of x-ray induced mutation described it as “speeding up evolution,” an outcome that would make plant breeding as efficient and rational as industrialization had made the production of manufactured goods. Such expectations fueled further research and experimentation.

Keywords:   Hermann Muller, Drosophila melanogaster, x-ray, industrialization, evolution, induced mutation

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