A weird garden of mutated plants at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island offers a foretaste of what an Earth devastated by atomic energy may look like. The ten-acre tract, closely guarded, is in its tenth year of use. It features a long cylinder of radioactive Cobalt-60 that is lowered into the ground for several hours each day, showering the nearby plants with 2000-curie gamma rays that induce the genetic changes known as mutations.
Several useful plant mutations have resulted, though most of the garden’s plants are biological monstrosities. Among the useful mutants are a bushy type of navy bean that is resistant to disease and easier to harvest; a strain of oat resistant to the costly rust disease; and a hardy, short stemmed rice plant. A strain of peach trees that ripens two weeks earlier than normal, and one that ripens two weeks later than normal, have also been produced.
But most of the crop is strange and bizarre. In a wedge-shaped bed of gladioluses, those nearest the gamma-source (which would kill a human being four feet away within an hour) are dwarfed to one-eighth normal size. Tobacco plants grow with cord-like, stringy leaves in the Brookhaven garden. Some other plants bear little resemblance to their non-mutated originals.
The purpose of the Atomic Energy Commission-sponsored garden is to develop beneficial mutants for the improvement of agriculture. More than 150 plant breeders and geneticists are taking part in the radiation experiments.
—Steven Rory, Super-Science Fiction, Junho 1959 (Internet Archive)
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