The Green Phoenix: A History of Genetically Modified Plants

The Green Phoenix: A History of Genetically Modified Plants

The Green Phoenix: A History of Genetically Modified Plants

The Green Phoenix: A History of Genetically Modified Plants

Synopsis

Providing the first account of the story behind genetically engineered plants, Paul F. Lurquin covers the controversial birth of the field, its sudden death, phoenixlike reemergence, and ultimate triumph as not only a legitimate field of science but a new tool of multinational corporate interests. In addition, Lurquin looks ahead to the potential impact this revolutionary technology will have on human welfare.

As Lurquin shows, it was the intense competition between international labs that resulted in the creation of the first transgenic plants. Two very different approaches to plant genetic engineering came to fruition at practically the same time, and Lurquin's account demonstrates how cross-fertilization between the two areas was critical to success. The scientists concerned were trying to tackle some very basic scientific problems and did not foresee the way that corporations would apply their methodology. With detailed accounts of the work of individual scientists and teams all over the world, Lurquin pieces together a remarkable account.

Excerpt

In his excellent little book The lac Operon: A Short History of a Genetic Paradigm, Benno Müller-Hill (1996) complains that [molecular biology has no history for the young scientist.] He goes on to say, [Old errors in interpretation are not mentioned. Who cares? There is only one view, and this is the correct, modern view.] How right he is! For example, I invariably notice at the beginning of my course in general genetics that undergraduate students respond as if the science of genetics had created itself by an act of spontaneous generation, with all the right answers to all the right questions, right from the start. These students should of course not be blamed; few professors and teachers have told them differently, in any area of science.

Similarly, textbook science is a very poor representation of the scientific process as it is experienced in the laboratory. In these books, faceless humans generate hypotheses easily and invariably verify them experimentally. In the field of genetics, students memorize the names of Mendel, Watson, and Crick but remain unaware of the thought processes leading to their discoveries. False starts and wrong interpretations usually are not even mentioned and are certainly not discussed, and the chronological development of ideas is largely ignored. In other words, students are rarely, if ever, exposed to the inner workings of the scientific process and typically receive a highly sanitized version of the act of scientific discovery.

Even graduate students, eager to learn cutting-edge principles and technologies, seem insufficiently aware of the sometimes convoluted process that led to the knowledge they are so keen on acquiring. In this case, however, interest in the scientific process itself is much higher. After all, these young people are tomorrow's scientists. Yet they are rarely exposed formally to the ups and downs over time of their field of choice. As for the general public, how can it hope to understand where scientific verities (and . . .

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