The Uses of Life: A History of Biotechnology
Good or bad? New or old? The rich connotations of the word 'biotechnology' reflect a history that surprisingly stretches back more than seventy years. To some, the concept describes the evolving crafts of industrial production using microorganisms. To others, biotechnology is a product of recombinant DNA techniques only recently developed by molecular biologists. It has been seen simply as a means of wealth production and as a new kind of technology - sometimes as distinctively benevolent and, at other times, as particularly dangerous. Robert Bud shows how the hopes and fears for the combination of biology with engineering have been an integral part of the history of the twentieth century, including the Great Depression of the 1930s, the two world wars, and the more recent anxieties over genetics and entrepreneurial industry. The problems and opportunities of agricultural surpluses provide an enduring theme. Skillfully, the author relates biotechnology's origins in the chemistry and microbiology of the nineteenth century. Personalities with influential roles in its subsequent development - the future first president of Israel, Chaim Weizmann; a pioneer of industrialized agriculture and Hungarian pig farmer, Karl Ereky; the British biologist and town planner Patrick Geddes; his friend the writer Lewis Mumford; the Nobel Prize-winning American geneticist Joshua Lederberg; the sceptical campaigner Jeremy Rifkin; among many others - are discussed. Analysis of the changing roles and hopes for biotechnology in government and society takes the book to the end of the 1980s, when recombinant DNA techniques had become the dominant driving force behind what today we think of as biotechnology. Thisfirst history of biotechnology provides a readable and challenging account for anyone interested in the development of this key component of modern industry, not just for biologists, chemists, engineers, and historians of science and technology.