The Countercultural Origins of an Industry
Publication Year: 2011
The seemingly unlimited reach of powerful biotechnologies and the attendant growth of the multibillion-dollar industry have raised difficult questions about the scientific discoveries, political assumptions, and cultural patterns that gave rise to for-profit biological research. Given such extraordinary stakes, a history of the commercial biotechnology industry must inquire far beyond the predictable attention to scientists, discovery, and corporate sales. It must pursue how something so complex as the biotechnology industry was born, poised to become both a vanguard for contemporary world capitalism and a focal point for polemic ethical debate.
In Biotech, Eric J. Vettel chronicles the story behind genetic engineering, recombinant DNA, cloning, and stem-cell research. It is a story about the meteoric rise of government support for scientific research during the Cold War, about activists and student protesters in the Vietnam era pressing for a new purpose in science, about politicians creating policy that alters the course of science, and also about the release of powerful entrepreneurial energies in universities and in venture capital that few realized existed. Most of all, it is a story about people—not just biologists but also followers and opponents who knew nothing about the biological sciences yet cared deeply about how biological research was done and how the resulting knowledge was used.
Vettel weaves together these stories to illustrate how the biotechnology industry was born in the San Francisco Bay area, examining the anomalies, ironies, and paradoxes that contributed to its rise. Culled from oral histories, university records, and private corporate archives, including Cetus, the world's first biotechnology company, this compelling history shows how a cultural and political revolution in the 1960s resulted in a new scientific order: the practical application of biological knowledge supported by private investors expecting profitable returns eclipsed basic research supported by government agencies.
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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Table of Contents
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The seemingly unlimited reach of powerful biotechnologies, and the attendant growth of the multi-billion-dollar industry, have raised difficult questions about the scientific discoveries, political assumptions, and cultural patterns that gave rise to for-profit biological research. Given ...
1: The Setting, 1946
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The San Francisco Bay Area, with its own history of scientific successes and its emerging presence at the edge of a technological revolution, had established itself by the end of World War II as a preeminent research center. Here, some critical discoveries had occurred, particularly in ...
2: Patronage and Policy
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Whether celebrated as saviors or scorned as meddlers, patrons of science play a major role in shaping research and influencing its pace and direction. Yet too much can be made of scientific patronage as a cause of discovery. Scientists do not always conduct their experiments in ...
3: The Promise and Peril of the BVL
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When Wendell Stanley arrived at Berkeley in 1948 as head of the biochemistry department and Virus Laboratory, his new colleagues welcomed him by urging everyone-staff, students, and the community-to "offer their complete support." But Stanley did not need any more accoutrements of power to direct a high-powered research...
4: The Ascent of Pure Research
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The experience of Berkeley and the BVL only partly explains the rise of pure research in Bay Area bioscience laboratories. To review, pure research at the BVL forged ahead because the federal government allowed Stanley to establish standards of eligibility and payment. Stanley ...
5: Research Life!
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When the 1960s began, at a time when fundamental research questions seemed to dominate the biological sciences at all three Bay Area research universities, a quiet opposition began to question the perceived value of pure knowledge, the federal government's blanket support of research, and the isolation of biology ...
6: A Season of Policy Reform
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The making of a biotechnology industry involved both the loosening of the scientific research agenda through conflict between pure and applied researchers as well as a counter culture that raised challenging questions about the value of pure research. Indeed, the precondition for the coming revolution was this rare combination in which ...
7: Crossing the Threshold
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By the end of the 1960s, the overriding issue in the biological sciences had become the practical application of pure knowledge. The popular wish for utility had become the preferred answer for bioscience research, draining fundamental discovery of its experimental ...
8: Cetus: History's First Biotechnology Company
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The first biotechnology company started with a machine. Not just any machine; it was a bioengineering machine. It could induce mutations in a massive vat of organisms. It could identify strains for potency, reproducibility, morphology. It could make clones. No one at the beginning ...
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Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2011
Series Title: Politics and Culture in Modern America