Systems and Synthetic Biology

, Volume 7, Issue 1–2, pp 41–50 | Cite as

Designing de novo: interdisciplinary debates in synthetic biology

Research Article


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.


Synthetic biology Design Innovation 



The research and writing of this paper was financially supported by the Research Council of Norway (Project No 187969/O10). Thanks to Fern Wickson, Kjetil Rommetveit and Roger Strand for commenting on earlier versions of this manuscript. We are grateful to the anonymous reviewers whose comments have contributed to the substantial improvement of the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the HumanitiesUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  2. 2.Cavanilles InstituteUniversity of ValenciaValenciaSpain
  3. 3.Fundació General de la Universitat de ValènciaValenciaSpain

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