Speeding Up Evolution: X-Rays and Plant Breeding in the United States, 1925–1935

  • Helen Anne CurryEmail author
Part of the Archimedes book series (ARIM, volume 40)


This chapter considers the history of attempts made to use X-ray irradiation in the improvement of agricultural and horticultural plants in the interwar United States. From the turn of the century, breeders had expressed a hope that biological research would someday reveal the means for creating inheritable variation on demand. Beginning in 1927, after geneticists first demonstrated convincingly that the radiation from X-ray tubes could be used to generate genetic mutations, researchers in a range of venues investigated the possibilities of using these as tools for breeding improved crops and flowers. These efforts, and especially their celebration in the popular press as attempts to “speed up evolution” and “make new life to order,” offer insights into the extent and nature of early hopes that genetics research would produce new technologies for genetic manipulation.


Biotechnology Genetics Induced mutation Hermann Muller Lewis J. Stadler Mutation breeding Plant breeding Radiation biology X-ray 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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