Emerging Technologies in an Unequal World
Edited by Susan Cozzens and Dhanaraj Thakur
Chapter 7: Open source biotechnology: plant tissue culture and the growth of opportunity
This chapter introduces and analyses the distributional dynamics associated with plant tissue culture, the process of growing a new plant from a single cell of an older one. The technique, which is considered part of a first generation of biotechnology, is particularly important in growing vegetatively propagated crops, where fungal infections can run rampant. No one tissue-cultured crop was important across all the countries in our study, so we chose to study different ones that were locally important: banana in Costa Rica and Jamaica, Irish potato in Argentina and the United States, and sweet potato in Mozambique. Plant tissue culture was developed through open research and first accomplished in a university laboratory (Thorpe, 2007). Like GM maize, plant tissue culture is a producer technology, yielding benefits for food consumers by improving agricultural production. The technique was never patented, so it has been available to any and all technological champions. But it demands fairly high levels of infrastructure, including a clean room and specialized training. What then might we expect are its dynamics in the five countries where we studied it? Will the infrastructure and skills requirement keep it from having much impact in Mozambique and Jamaica? How will multinationals enter the picture in Costa Rica; will their interests be at odds with the egalitarian commitments of Costa Rican society? Will the strong public research capabilities in both Argentina and the United States create similar outcomes in those two very different countries?
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