Article ID: CBB407365411

Synthetic biology as a technoscience: The case of minimal genomes and essential genes (2021)


This article examines how minimal genome research mobilizes philosophical concepts such as minimality and essentiality. Following a historical approach the article aims to uncover what function this terminology plays and which problems are raised by them. Specifically, four historical moments are examined, linked to the work of Harold J. Morowitz, Mitsuhiro Itaya, Eugene Koonin and Arcady Mushegian, and J. Craig Venter. What this survey shows is a historical shift away from historical questions about life or descriptive questions about specific organisms towards questions that explore biological possibilities: what are possible forms of minimal genomes, regardless of whether they exist in nature? Moreover, it highlights a fundamental ambiguity at work in minimal genome research between a universality claim and a standardization claim: does a minimal genome refer to the minimal gene set for any organism whatsoever? Or does it refer rather to a gene set that will provide stable, robust and predictable behaviour, suited for biotechnological applications? Two diagnoses are proposed for this ambiguity: a philosophical diagnosis of how minimal genome research either misunderstands the ontology of biological entities or philosophically misarticulates scientific practice. Secondly, a historical diagnosis that suggests that this ambiguity is part of a broader shift towards technoscience.

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Authors & Contributors
Reardon, Jenny
Bostanci, Adam
Alexander Bogner
W. Ford Doolittle
Giraud, Eva
Robert Meckin
Social Studies of Science
Science as Culture
East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Science, Technology, and Human Values
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Chicago Press
Harvard University Press
Cambridge University Press
Science and technology studies (STS)
Keller, Evelyn Fox
Karen Barad
Engels, Friedrich
Venter, J. Craig
Foucault, Michel
Fiers, Walter
Time Periods
21st century
20th century, late
20th century
19th century
United States
Latin America
European Union
Ghent University

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