Atomic gardens are a form of mutation breeding where plants are exposed to radioactive sources, typically Cobalt-60, in order to generate useful mutations. One example is the resistance to verticillium wilt of the "Todd's Mitcham" cultivar of peppermint which was produced from a breeding and test program at Brookhaven National Laboratory from the mid-1950s.
Beginning in the 1950s, atomic gardens were a part of Atoms for Peace, a program to develop "peaceful" uses of fission energy after WWII. Gamma gardens were established in laboratories in the US, Europe, parts of the former USSR, India and Japan. The Atomic Gardening Society was set up in 1959 by Muriel Howorth in the UK. The youngest member of the society was Christopher Abbey (15), a student at Eastbourne College and the son of her dentist, who received a certificate of merit for propagating several species of irradiated seeds to maturity. Irradiated seeds were sold to the public by C.J. Speas, who had obtained a licence for a Cobalt-60 source; and sold seeds produced in a backyard cinderblock bunker. A number of commercial plant varieties were developed and released.
The gamma gardens were arranged in a circular pattern with a retractable radiation source in the middle. Plants were usually laid out like slices of a pie, radiating from the central radiation source; this pattern produced a range of radiation doses over the radius from the centre. The plants nearest the centre usually died, the ones further out often featured "tumors and other growth abnormalities"; beyond these were the plants of interest, with a higher than usual range of mutations, but not to the damaging extent of those closer to the radiation source.
In popular culture
Atomic gardens are part of the background of the plot of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds which features the growth of irradiated seeds as a science fair project. The broccoli questions the wisdom of mutating vegetables in the 29-08-1989 Dilbert.
- Twilley, Nicola (2011-04-21). "Strange and Beautiful Seeds From the Atom". Edible Geography. Future Plural. Retrieved 2011-07-16.
- Trevi, Alexander (2011-04-20). "Atomic Gardens". Pruned: On landscape architecture and related fields. Alexander Trevi. Archived from the original on 29 April 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-21.
- van Harten, A. M. (1998). Mutation Breeding: Theory and Practical Applications. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press. pp. 286–287. ISBN 978-0-521-47074-2.
- "This Day That Age: August 30, 1960: “Gamma Garden”". The Hindu. The Hindu. 2010-08-30. Retrieved 2011-07-16.
- "Atomic Gardens". Garden History Girl. arcady. 2010-12-02. Retrieved 2011-07-16.
- Institute of Radiation Breeding (IRB), NIAS, MAFF, Hitachiohmiya, Japan
- IRB gamma field on Google maps
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