'Can simple biological systems be built from standardized interchangeable parts?' Negotiating biology and engineering in a synthetic biology competition

Emma Frow, Jane Calvert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Synthetic biology represents a recent attempt to bring engineering principles and practices to working with biology. In practice, the nature of the relationship between engineering and biology in synthetic biology is a subject of ongoing debate. The disciplines of biology and engineering are typically seen to involve different ways of knowing and doing, and to embody different assumptions and objectives. Tensions between these approaches are playing out as the field of synthetic biology is being established. Here, we study negotiations between engineering and biology through the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. This undergraduate competition has been important in launching and bootstrapping the field of synthetic biology, and serves as a test-bed for the engineering approach. We show how a number of issues that iGEM teams must grapple with - including standardization, design, intellectual property, and the imagination of the social - involve the negotiation of engineering, biology, and other disciplines (including computer science), in ways more complex than the engineering rhetoric of synthetic biology implies. We suggest that a new moral economy for synthetic biology is being created, in which epistemic and institutional values, conventions, and practices are being negotiated and (re)defined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42-58
Number of pages17
JournalEngineering Studies
Volume5
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2013
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

Biological systems
biology
engineering
Intellectual property
Launching
Synthetic Biology
Computer science
Standardization
intellectual property
computer science
rhetoric
economy

Keywords

  • design
  • human practices
  • intellectual property
  • interdisciplinarity
  • standards
  • synthetic biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)
  • Education
  • History and Philosophy of Science

Cite this

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