restricted access Industrial Evolution: Mechanical and Biological Innovation at the General Electric Research Laboratory

This paper explores the history of attempts to apply x-ray radiation as a tool of plant breeding through a case study of a short-lived research program at the General Electric Research Laboratory in the 1930s. As I show, the goal of this program was to turn the appearance of genetic variation into an efficient, predictable process—in other words, it was an effort to create a precision tool for altering genes. I further argue that in the context of the industrial research laboratory, as opposed to other sites where the use of radiation in plant breeding was explored, researchers sought in particular to align the processes of biological innovation with those of mechanical and industrial innovation. The account provides a new perspective on the history of agro-biotechnologies in an industrial context as well as on the intersecting histories of biological and other technological development.