Helen Anne Curry's research while affiliated with University of Cambridge and other places

Publications (27)

Article
Accounts of twentieth-century agricultural industrialization in the United States and beyond often center the production and distribution of commercial F1 hybrid seed as a pivotal development. The commercialization of hybrid corn seed in the 1930s was initially heralded as a science-driven advance in agricultural productivity. However, since the 19...
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As climate change increasingly threatens agricultural production, expanding genetic diversity in crops is an important strategy for climate resilience in many agricultural contexts. In this Essay, we explore the potential of crop biotechnology to contribute to this diversification, especially in industrialized systems, by using historical perspecti...
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Seeds and other plant materials in seed and gene bank collections are rarely considered adequately conserved today unless genetically identical duplicate samples have been created and safely stored elsewhere. This paper explores the history of seed banking to understand how, why and with what consequences copying collections came to occupy this cen...
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Crop diversity underpins the productivity, resilience, and adaptive capacity of agriculture. Loss of this diversity, termed crop genetic erosion, is therefore concerning. While alarms regarding evident declines in crop diversity have been raised for over a century, the magnitude, trajectory, drivers, and significance of these losses remain insuffic...
Article
A journalist investigates a surprising act of espionage
Article
The articles in this special issue contribute to our understanding of the historical emergences and present‐day functioning of various modes of conserving plant genetic diversity in seed banks. Exploring both crop plant and wild species conservation at different times and scales, the papers examine how various actors articulate their role in stewar...
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Individual seed saving and exchange are considered important components of contemporary efforts to conserve crop genetic diversity that ramify at local, regional, and global scales. Yet the very fact that the contributions of these activities to conservation need to be made explicit by seed savers and those who study them indicates that the practic...
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In 1975, the Missouri homesteaders Kent and Diane Ott Whealy launched True Seed Exchange (later Seed Savers Exchange), a network of ‘serious gardeners’ interested in growing and conserving heirloom and other hard-to-find plant varieties, especially vegetables. In its earliest years, the organization pursued its conservation mission through member-l...
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This paper charts the history of the Rockefeller Foundation’s participation in the collection and long-term preservation of genetic diversity in crop plants from the 1940s through the 1970s. In the decades following the launch of its agricultural program in Mexico in 1943, the Rockefeller Foundation figured prominently in the creation of world coll...
Article
This paper charts the history of the Rockefeller Foundation's participation in the collection and long-term preservation of genetic diversity in crop plants from the 1940s through the 1970s. In the decades following the launch of its agricultural program in Mexico in 1943, the Rockefeller Foundation figured prominently in the creation of world coll...
Article
No doubt we all stop on occasion to admire a spectacular plant such as a glamorous rose blushing in a neighbor's garden or a sugar maple ablaze with color in autumn. Less often do we stop to do what the eminent British nature writer Richard Mabey exhorts in The Cabaret of Plants : to cease thinking of plants simply as pleasurable sights and useful...
Article
This paper explores the nature of scientific research and innovation at the intersection of technological systems via a study of atomic age plant breeding. I show how the well-established framework of “large technological systems” can be deployed to understand research dynamics in the Cold War life sciences and further suggest that this framework m...
Article
"If anything in the world is alive, is not radium alive?" asked the physician and journalist C. W. Saleeby in 1906. Writing at the height of a radium craze that swept across Europe and America in the early 20th century, Saleeby was one of many observers who connected radium and radioactivity to the mysteries of life. These couplings—and the curious...
Chapter
This chapter considers the history of attempts made to use X-ray irradiation in the improvement of agricultural and horticultural plants in the interwar United States. From the turn of the century, breeders had expressed a hope that biological research would someday reveal the means for creating inheritable variation on demand. Beginning in 1927, a...
Article
This paper explores the nature of scientific research and innovation at the intersection of technological systems via a study of atomic age plant breeding. I show how the well-established framework of “large technological systems” can be deployed to understand research dynamics in the Cold War life sciences and further suggest that this framework m...
Article
This article charts the history of an unusual approach taken to restoring the American chestnut to its native range between 1955 and 1980. The chestnut, once abundant in the eastern United States, had been nearly wiped out by a blight to which it had little resistance. In 1955 the geneticist W. Ralph Singleton proposed that exposing chestnuts to ra...
Article
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, i...
Article
This paper describes the activities of amateur plant breeders and their application of various methods and technologies derived from genetics research over the course of the twentieth century. These ranged from selection and hybridization to more interventionist approaches such as radiation treatment to induce genetic mutations and chemical manipul...
Article
The rosy periwinkle, a plant originating in the rainforest of Madagascar, is best known for its use in modern biomedicine as a cancer therapy and as a symbol of the importance of biodiversity conservation. Yet images of the plant as a novel therapeutic and an endangered exotic obscure its commonness, for it is both naturalised in many parts of the...

Citations

... In the collection, you will find Perspective articles from experts working across the field of genetics on how Mendel's work has shaped their areas of interest [2,3,4], as well as an exploration of Mendel's life and work as a scientist told through his own words [5]. The collection also contains Essays exploring different aspects and applications of modern genetics research; Sarah Garland and Helen Anne Curry use historical perspectives to ask whether gene editing of crops has lived up to its potential, charting the process from its early beginnings in Mendel's work [6], and Laurence Hurst asks whether a greater understanding of selfish genetic elements, which do not adhere to the principles of Mendelian inheritance, can explain why so many human embryos have the wrong number of chromosomes and fail to develop [7]. ...
... For this purpose, it is necessary to select the best parental genotypes with enough genetic diversity to ensure the perspective hybrid combinations with the best adaptation to the specific climatic conditions. Many authors alert that the allelic richness and the genetic diversity of breeders' varieties of the main commercial crops, including wheat, have decreased as a consequence of the Green Revolution and the limited use and/or abandoning of the local landraces [8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16]. This trend also includes the Balkan Peninsula [17,18]. ...
... Botanical exploration and plantation economies are two sides of the same coin of control (Casid 2005). The racializing hierarchies that were forged through these deep colonial histories shape the contemporary classification of seeds stored and bred at International Agricultural Research Centers, where plant reproductive material is sorted into two categories: elite germplasm, created through modern technoscientific research; and landraces, native varieties, and wild ancestors, portrayed as occurring naturally, which ignores their co-constitution through millennia of Indigenous stewardship (Curry 2021). Seed's human accomplices matter here too, with classifications reflecting the imagined degree of human intervention (Gan 2019). ...
... When the inevitable call arrives for a backup of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, as a result of (say) the hazards of a melting permafrost, perhaps we can, and should, respond by demanding a new guiding metaphor for seed conservation and the practices to accompany it. There are already several options, from seed library (Soleri, 2018) to vegetable sanctuary (Curry, 2019). Alternatively, we might want to re-invest in the metaphor and practice of banking. ...
... The foundation of settler colonies on the west coast, the support given to Egede's efforts to spread the Gospel, and the economic value of his narrative of encounters and observations were all part of the same story [32,35]. Helen Curry and James Secord have observed "natural history [developed] as a way of cataloguing novelties, charting unfamiliar territories and inventorying potentially useful resources" [36]. ...
... One of the biggest challenges for germplasm collections is the molecular characterization of accessions and their preservation from genetic erosion (Barcaccia 2009). Molecular markers are critical to determine the genetic diversity within collections and in the wild, as well as to select core collections of manageable size that represent the genetic diversity of the collection while maintaining allele specificity and accession rarity (Curry 2017;Reyes-Valdes et al. 2018). Microsatellites (or SSRs-Simple Sequence Repeats-), are one of the most widely used molecular markers in genetic studies, such as population genetics, molecular breeding, and paternity testing (Ellegren 2004). ...
... Most observers understood that increased crop yields seen in parts of Latin America, the Middle East and South Asia in the late 1960s -a so-called Green Revolution touted to be as socially and politically transformative as any red revolution -had been sustained, and would be extended, through the widespread cultivation of a handful of breeder-developed varieties (Curry, 2017b;Fenzi and Bonneuil, 2016). The sweep of breeders' varieties across farmlands previously dominated by local lines, typically maintained by farmers from season to season, loomed with such certainty that scientists now referred to a process of 'genetic erosion'. ...
... become materially enrolled in the pursuit of nationalist agendas. This is clear in both histories of agricultural science under fascism (Bonneuil 2010. Camprubí 2010. Gausemeier 2010. Harwood 2010. Saraiva and Norton Wise 2010. Saraiva 2016 and in democracies with long traditions of nationalism, paternalism or technocracy (Charnley 2016. Olby 1991. Curry 2016c. Harwood 2012). An additional layer of significance for understanding biological diversity as a resource (Bonneuil in press) is added by imperial contexts, be it for scientists whose work constitutes part of the imperial project, or for the administrators of colonial states, or indigenous scientists and farmers (Baranski 2015b. Bonneuil ...
... In the following years, heated debates would take place over both the identity of the pathogen and the appropriate approach to its control. The earliest attempts to treat chestnut blight infection were chemical and physical, focused on the use of fungicides, tree surgery to remove infected limbs, and the removal of infected trees from cultivated and forest stands (Curry, 2014;Freinkel, 2007). Quarantine measures were also implemented, eventually supported by the passage of the Plant Quarantine Act, which aimed to limit the importation of additional potential plant pathogens in light of the destruction wrought by chestnut blight (Waterworth and White, 1982). ...
... Lasker's life demonstrates that amateurs still played a part in biomedical research in the 1940s and 1950s, and that this may have been especially true for women. As Helen Curry has shown, amateurs in plant breeding were accepted as valid experimenters in the US in the twentieth century (Curry 2014), which may also be true of biomedical research in the period before it became institutionalized. ...