The Green Phoenix: A History of Genetically Modified Plants

By Paul F. Lurquin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Where It All Began

The community of science is very much unlike any other. Academic scientists do research on strange and often apparently useless topics, publish their results in journals that nobody else reads, and go to meetings that interest only themselves. Harmony seems to reign. At least, this is what a superficial examination reveals. The history of plant genetic engineering is actually characterized by deep controversies as well as great achievements. Truth in the area of plant transformation did not prevail right from the start, and it took years for some claims to be universally accepted or rejected. The beginning of this book thus describes the very first attempts at plant transgenesis, which took place in a remote location in Belgium, the town of Mol. This chapter will show that science can sometimes be a chaotic phenomenon and that scientific truth is not necessarily like Botticelli's Venus: It does not emerge spontaneously from the surf of experimental work.


Genesis

Because the beginnings of plant transformation research can be traced to one single laboratory, I believe that a short description of the place and circumstances is warranted. Mol is a strange little town. Were it not for the presence of three huge nuclear reactors in a nearby fenced-in conifer wood, it would resemble any other small community in eastern Antwerp province in the vicinity of the Dutch border. Towns in this area had always been farming communities condemned to cultivate arid, sandy soils or, in the case of nearby Geel since medieval times, to specialize in the reinsertion into society of mentally disturbed patients. The proximity of Geel was, of course, an endless source of jokes. The building of the Nuclear Study Center, however,

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