, Volume 7, Issue 1-2, pp 41-50
Date: 09 Apr 2013

Designing de novo: interdisciplinary debates in synthetic biology

Abstract

Synthetic biology is often presented as a promissory field that ambitions to produce novelty by design. The ultimate promise is the production of living systems that will perform new and desired functions in predictable ways. Nevertheless, realizing promises of novelty has not proven to be a straightforward endeavour. This paper provides an overview of, and explores the existing debates on, the possibility of designing living systems de novo as they appear in interdisciplinary talks between engineering and biological views within the field of synthetic biology. To broaden such interdisciplinary debates, we include the views from the social sciences and the humanities and we point to some fundamental sources of disagreement within the field. Different views co-exist, sometimes as controversial tensions, but sometimes also pointing to integration in the form of intermediate positions. As the field is emerging, multiple choices are possible. They will inform alternative trajectories in synthetic biology and will certainly shape its future. What direction is best is to be decided in reflexive and socially robust ways.