1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Cesagen · Research

Plant Genomics, Commercialisation and Environmental Knowledge

Brian Wynne, Claire Waterton, Jane Taylor

Start date


Affiliated staff

Katrina Strengel, Mercy Kamara


Since its inception plant genetics research has been a field dependent upon both private and public funding sources. Historically the boundary between basic and applied research in the plant sciences has always been blurred. In the last few decades, however, commercial visions behind much research in the plant sciences have intensified through a combination of new scientific and technological opportunities, the funding of research by global multinational companies, and an increasing use of venture capital for research funding. By the late 20th century an increasing number of research scientists had become more 'entrepreneurial' than ever before, looking more toward commercial applications of their research and finding funding for the commercial support and exploitation of public laboratory science.The intensification of commercial relationships within the plant sciences, which this Cesagen project mapped for the UK alone, can be understood in the light of wider structural changes, including international competitiveness, the formation of new science and innovation policies at national and international (e.g. OECD) levels, and the creation and promotion of new discourses around science and innovation, science and wealth creation, knowledge transfer and so on.


The overarching aim was to explore the effects of changing funding patterns and pressures on scientific practices, organisation, and knowledge in plant genomics research. Objectives associated with this aim were:

  1. To map and understand the nature and trends of commercialisation in plant genomics and post-genomic plant biology in the UK.
  2. To map UK plant scientists’ perspectives and hands-on experiences with current research funding environment. In particular, i) how scientists view and are responding to funding conditions and situation with reference to their own research interests and motivations; ii) how the current funding climate positively or negatively shapes or affects their research questions, projects, trajectories or work practices; and iii) the effects of this on a) research output and outcome; and b) the nature of scientific results and knowledge.
  3. To map any implicit and explicit representations of the public values and public concerns in plant genomics and post-genomic plant biology.


  • Participant observation
  • Qualitative interviewing


The study provided:

  • Enriched understanding of currents regimes of knowledge production and their respective structures and dynamics;
  • Understanding of the role of assumptions about public needs, concerns and priorities in shaping ‘natural’ trajectories of research and innovation;
  • An exploration of alternative regimes of knowledge production, so as to engender diversity, versatility, flexibility and democratic accountability in science, science policy and knowledge production.
  • Ethnographic analysis of how and what count as ‘doable’, how worthwhile scientific questions come to be defined and pursued under new commercial cultures of plant genomics sciences
  • Examination of what kinds of implicit ideas of ‘public good’ or ‘public value’ come to shape scientific research trajectories in this field
  • Analysis of the effects of policy shifts away from GM agricultural technologies in the UK and Europe, on basic scientific research commitments in plant genomics.


Wynne, B. (2005) 'Reflexing Complexity: Post-genomic knowledge and reductionist returns in public science', Theory, Culture and Society, 22: 5.

Wynne, B. (2005) 'Risky Delusions: How GM Science has imagined – and provoked – its publics' in Iain Taylor and Katherine Barrett (eds) Genetically Engineered Crops: Decision-making under Uncertainty, UBC Press: Canada.

Wynne, B., Wilsdon, J. and Stilgoe, J. (2005) The Public Value of Science, London: Demos. 

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