Accepted paper:

Cuts and the cutting edge: the making of agricultural biotechnology in 1980s Edinburgh


Dmitriy Myelnikov (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the introduction of genetic engineering at the Animal Breeding Research Organisation in Edinburgh in the 1980s under government pressure and financial uncertainty, and shows how ABRO adopted the laboratory and social worlds of molecular biology on an experimental farm.

Paper long abstract:

In 1980, genetic modification of mice was announced, paving way for speculations about extending biotechnology to animal agriculture. In Britain, the Animal Breeding Research Organisation (ABRO) in Edinburgh - the precursor of the Roslin Institute where Dolly was cloned in 1996 - adopted the new methods to extend genetic engineering to sheep, with the hope of synthesising valuable proteins in their milk. While histories of modern biotechnology have tended to emphasise the importance of enterprise and commercial interests, ABRO's decision to pursue genetic engineering happened in the context of government cuts to agricultural research and strong pressure from the Agricultural Research Council to reorient the institute from long-term breeding research towards cutting-edge technologies. In this paper, I examine how the Institute responded to its new mandate in the light of financial uncertainty, and trace the new networks and infrastructure that it had to build to bring molecular research and farm animal work under one roof. ABRO researchers learned to work with isolated genes across mice and sheep, creating a hybrid world between the laboratory and experimental farm. Meanwhile, the administration navigated through Thatcher-era policies and the brave new world of biotech, forming a spin-off and filing patent applications, and turned the Organisation into a hybrid public-private venture typical of today's biomedicine.

panel T047
The field and the farm in the production of biomedical knowledge