Biological Theory

, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 378–389 | Cite as

Making Knowledge in Synthetic Biology: Design Meets Kludge

  • Maureen A. O’Malley


Synthetic biology is an umbrella term that covers a range of aims, approaches, and techniques. They are all brought together by common practices of analogizing, synthesizing, mechanicizing, and kludging. With a focus on kludging as the connection point between biology, engineering, and evolution, I show how synthetic biology’s successes depend on custom-built kludges and a creative, “make-it-work” attitude to the construction of biological systems. Such practices do not fit neatly, however, into synthetic biology’s celebration of rational design. Nor do they straightforwardly embody Richard Feynman’s “last blackboard” statement (1988) that without creating something it cannot be understood. Reflecting further on the relationship between synthetic construction and knowledge making gives philosophy of science new avenues of insight into scientific practice.


construction design engineering kludging scientific knowledge synthetic biology systems biology 


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© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.EgenisUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

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