Artificial Evolution: Åke Gustafsson and the Development of Mutation Breeding

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Abstract Summary
In the late 1920s, Åke Gustafsson and Herman Nilsson-Ehle started experiments of induced mutations at the Svalöf Plant Breeding Station in Sweden. Already in the mid-1930s, the first viable mutations appeared, and in 1940 an extended research program was set up. Gustafsson devoted much of his scientific career to mutation research. With funding granted by the Swedish government, he established a large national research group with the aim to investigate theoretical and applied aspects of induced mutations. During the 1960s, he became increasingly involved in the FAO/IAEA Joint Division. In opposition to many contemporary geneticists and plant breeders, Gustafsson never doubted the value of induced mutations for plant breeding, which according to him dealt with the artificial evolution of crop species by changing and accommodating them to human needs and demands. He was dubbed the “father of mutation breeding”. In this presentation, I will outline Gustafsson’s research on induced mutations by using Sheila Jasanoff’s concept sociotechnical imaginaries. I will argue that Gustafsson’s view on induced mutation was part of a sociotechnical imaginary in Sweden that emphasized the close links between basic research and its practical applications and the value of science for the development of society and the welfare state. This imaginary promoted the advancement of science-driven plant breeding technologies to improve crops, increase productivity and achieve national food security. During the 1960s, the sociotechnical imaginary of plant breeding was extended beyond the national borders to include the developing countries, which further stimulated Gustafsson’s engagement in the FAO/IAEA activities.
Abstract ID :
Submission Type
Organized Session
Abstract Topic
Chronological Classification :
20th century, late
Self-Designated Keywords :
Atomic science, Mutation breeding, Åke Gustafsson, Sociotechnical imaginaries, FAO, IAEA