The Recombinant University
Genetic Engineering and the Emergence of Stanford Biotechnology
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The advent of recombinant DNA technology in the 1970s was a key moment in the history of both biotechnology and the commercialization of academic research. Doogab Yi’s The Recombinant University draws us deeply into the academic community in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the technology was developed and adopted as the first major commercial technology for genetic engineering. In doing so, it reveals how research patronage, market forces, and legal developments from the late 1960s through the early 1980s influenced the evolution of the technology and reshaped the moral and scientific life of biomedical researchers.
Bay Area scientists, university administrators, and government officials were fascinated by and increasingly engaged in the economic and political opportunities associated with the privatization of academic research. Yi uncovers how the attempts made by Stanford scientists and administrators to demonstrate the relevance of academic research were increasingly mediated by capitalistic conceptions of knowledge, medical innovation, and the public interest. Their interventions resulted in legal shifts and moral realignments that encouraged the privatization of academic research for public benefit. The Recombinant University brings to life the hybrid origin story of biotechnology and the ways the academic culture of science has changed in tandem with the early commercialization of recombinant DNA technology.