Synthetic biology appears to be moving toward engineering whole living organisms. This article addresses how Saccharomyces cerevisiae 2.0, a whole-genome construction project, presents an argument for a route toward that end through discursive tools it employs to construct “synthetic yeast.” I analyze metaphors in recent peer-reviewed literature associated with the synthetic yeast project, asking how these metaphors shape the nature of synthetic yeast and relate the yeast to its parts and to its engineers. While chromosomes and other genome components are handled with metaphors emphasizing scientific control, the absence of these metaphors’ extension to the whole organism leaves space for the synthetic yeast itself to have unpredicted and surprising emergent characteristics. I argue that examining metaphors as instruments of scientific construction in disciplinary discourse, independent of their use in science communication to lay audiences, contributes to conversations about how and what scientists construct in their movements toward ‘engineering life.’
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Stop codons signal to ribosomes that the ribosome has reached the end of the portion of a messenger RNA transcript that should be translated into a protein.
Non-essential genes are genes which can be deleted or inactivated without killing the cell. They are putative because they have been identified as non-essential through previous experiments inactivating one or two genes at a time, but this set may not perfectly overlap with the set identified when multiple genes are inactivated simultaneously.
In silico refers to symbolically designing, in a digital computer system, something which could be physically realized as a biological system. in yeasto refers to physically realizing something in live yeast. Both riff on terminology common in biology of performing experiments in vitro and in vivo.
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This work was supported through grants from the Biological and Biotechnological Sciences Research Council (BB/M005690/1, ERASynBio-IESY) and the European Research Council (ERC 616510-ENLIFE). I gratefully acknowledge the research foundations and ongoing assistance of the “Engineering Life” team led by Jane Calvert and including Dominic Berry, Emma Frow, Pablo Schyfter, Deborah Scott, and Robert Smith.
Conflict of interest
I confirm that the attached manuscript is composed of original material not under review elsewhere and that the study on which the research is based has been subject to appropriate ethical review. I have no competing interest—intellectual or financial—in the research detailed in the manuscript.
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Szymanski, E.A. Remaking yeast: Metaphors as scientific tools in Saccharomyces cerevisiae 2.0. BioSocieties 14, 416–437 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41292-018-0134-z
- Synthetic biology
- Discourse analysis