"Atomic Spaghetti": Nuclear Energy and Agriculture in Italy, 1950s-1970s

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Abstract Summary
The presentation will focus on the mutagenesis program in agriculture implemented by the Italian Atomic Energy Commission (CNRN-CNEN), starting from 1956, through the establishment of a specific technological and experimental system: the so-called “gamma field”, a piece of agricultural land with a radioisotope of Cobalt-60 at the center. The Cobalt-60 would emit constant radiation, primarily gamma rays, which would bombard the specimens planted in concentric circles around the source, inducing genetic mutations. The CNEN gamma field went into operation in May 1960 at the Casaccia Laboratory, about twenty miles north of Rome, with a radiation device made available by the US Government for the Atoms-for-Peace program. Among the many research projects of the Casaccia Laboratory, the durum wheat program, strictly connected with the industrial production of Italian pasta, was particularly relevant. The extensive durum wheat mutation breeding work resulted in fact in the obtention of eleven registered varieties. In particular, “Creso” became the leading Italian variety with the highest percentage of durum certified and distributed seed. This presentation will analyze, first of all, how the American-Swedish experimental model of mutation breeding was translated into the Italian context, becoming instrumental for the modernization of Italian agriculture as well as for the establishment of plant genetics within the local academic system; secondly, it will describe how the FAO/IAEA network of durum wheat trials in the Mediterranean region contributed to the controversial diffusion of mutation plant breeding technologies in the developing countries.
Abstract ID :
Submission Type
Organized Session
Abstract Topic
Chronological Classification :
20th century, late
Self-Designated Keywords :
Atomic science, Mutation breeding, Gamma field, FAO, IAEA