Somatic hybridization is the particle collider of the biological world: where plant cells stripped of their cell wall are fused to create interspecific crosses containing a huge range of genetic information. This paper charts the origins of somatic hybridization and its rise and fall as a plant breeding technique. During the 1960s and 1970s, the creation of somatic hybrids through cell fusion promised a new era of crop improvement. Yet the promises of somatic hybridization were instead fulfilled by advances in recombinant DNA technology. Rather than cast somatic hybridization as a failed research program, this paper argues that a number of factors significantly slowed, but did not halt, developments in somatic hybridization research from the 1960s; the technique should therefore be considered a dormant biotechnology. Reconstructing the history of somatic hybridization reveals a new history of modern biotechnology beyond genetic modification, dominated by plant physiologists.

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