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The Diversity of Engineering in Synthetic Biology

Simons, Massimiliano (2020) The Diversity of Engineering in Synthetic Biology. NanoEthics, 14. pp. 71-91. ISSN 1871-4757

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Abstract

A recurrent theme in the characterization of synthetic biology is the role of engineering. This theme is widespread in the accounts of scholars studying this field and the biologists working in it, in those of the biologists themselves, aswell as in policy documents. The aimof this article is to open this black-box of engineering that is supposed to influence and change contemporary life sciences. Too often, both synthetic biologists and their critics assume a very narrow understanding of what engineering is about, resulting in an unfruitful debate about whether synthetic biology possesses genuine engineering methodologies or not. By looking in more detail to the diversity of engineering conceptions in debates concerning synthetic biology, a richer perspective can be developed. In this article, I will examine five influential ways in which engineering is understood in these debates, namely engineering as applied science, as rational methodology, contextsensitive practice, cunning activity or design. The claim is first of all thus to argue that engineeringmust not be seen as something stable or characterized by a fixed essence. It rather hasmultiplemeanings and interpretations. Secondly, the claim is that most of the debates on synthetic biology cannot be indifferent towards the question which conception of engineering is at play, since the specific questions and concerns that pop up depend to a great extent on the precise conception of engineering one has in account. Many of the existing debates around synthetic biology can thus be reinterpreted and readdressed once one is aware of which conception of engineering is at play.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Simons, MassimilianoMassimiliano.simons@gmail.com0000-0001-8751-9152
Keywords: Synthetic biology, History of engineering, History of design, Rational design, Directed evolution, George Church
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
Specific Sciences > Engineering
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Depositing User: Dr. Massimiliano Simons
Date Deposited: 19 Aug 2021 13:45
Last Modified: 19 Aug 2021 13:45
Item ID: 19452
Journal or Publication Title: NanoEthics
Official URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11569...
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.1007/s11569-019-00348-1
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
Specific Sciences > Engineering
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Date: 2020
Page Range: pp. 71-91
Volume: 14
ISSN: 1871-4757
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/19452

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