LSF Magazine: Spring 2012
Klaus Buchholz and John Collins. Concepts in Biotechnology: History, Science, and Business. Weinheim, Germany: Wiley-VCH, 2011. 490 pp. $75
Klaus Buchholz and John Collins have combined a technical history of industrial applications of biological tools, with discussions of law, economics, business, manufacturing, and government regulation. The text traces the development of scientific tributaries – disciplines, discoveries, and techniques – over time, from 1850 to the emergence of recombinant DNA and the ‘new’ biotechnology in the 1970s, through the present state-of-the-art in bioprocess engineering, industrial biotechnology, plant biotechnology, and biopharmaceuticals. Sections on biomedicine include coverage of DNA sequencing, genomics, personalized medicine, stem cells, and regenerative medicine. The authors, Buchholz, a German chemist, and Collins, an English microbiologist, have been active participants in the biological sciences and the life sciences industry for over forty years.
Elizabeth Popp Berman. Creating the Market University: How an Academic Science Became an Economic Engine. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011. 278 pp. $35
In the U.S. in the late 1970s and early 1980s, ties deepened considerably between academic institutions and market-based economic actors. Universities became closely attuned to the needs of industry and to the economic value of research conducted on their premises. Elizabeth Popp Berman describes the change as a shift in institutional logics – academic institutions once embodied scientific purity, but began increasingly to respond to economic imperatives. Why, Berman asks, did ‘market logic’ become influential in academic settings? Rather than attributing the change to the ‘animal spirits’ of capitalism, or technological breakthroughs that imbued research with practical utility and market value, Berman credits the government with effecting the transformation. She contends that that entrepreneurial ingenuity and innovative processes of technological development were conjured up by administrative incentives to commercialize research. The burst of high-tech innovation that emerged from academic institutions in the 1970s and 1980s resulted, so the argument goes, from a series of government policies implemented to transform universities into engines of economic growth.
Jennie Popp, Marty Matlock, Nathan Kemper, Molly Jahn, eds. The Role of Biotechnology in a Sustainable Food Supply. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, March 2012. 300 pp. $55
This edited volume poses a weighty question: how can the nations of the world simultaneously feed growing populations and preserve fragile ecosystems? Contributors consider the possible role of agricultural biotechnology. They represent a wide range of academic disciplines, including agricultural economics, agronomy, animal science, bioengineering, biostatistics, communications, entomology, environmental science, food science, plant breeding and genetics, plant pathology, public health, and soil science. The benefits, costs, risks, and ethics of recombinant DNA, transgenic plants and animals, and GM foods have been roundly debated since the early 1980s. This book offers a fresh perspective. Chapters on technical, ecological, economic, and political issues are linked by the theme of sustainability and a focus on long term outcomes. The authors do not restrict their analyses to problems and solutions articulated by present stakeholders; they inquire into actions that can be taken now to ensure an economically viable and healthy food future for generations in perpetuity. The book offers no simple answers, but the editors endorse cooperation and collaboration across multiple disciplines as a key to future food security.