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Synthetic Biology as a Technoscience: The Case of Minimal Genomes and Essential Genes

Simons, Massimiliano (2021) Synthetic Biology as a Technoscience: The Case of Minimal Genomes and Essential Genes. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 85. pp. 127-136. ISSN 00393681

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Abstract

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 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(ed) 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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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Simons, MassimilianoMassimiliano.simons@gmail.com0000-0001-8751-9152
Keywords: Minimal genome ; essential gene; Mycoplasma ; Craig Venter; synthetic biology ; technoscience
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Depositing User: Dr. Massimiliano Simons
Date Deposited: 19 Aug 2021 13:43
Last Modified: 19 Aug 2021 13:43
Item ID: 19450
Journal or Publication Title: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Official URL: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/...
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsa.2020.09.012
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Date: 2021
Page Range: pp. 127-136
Volume: 85
ISSN: 00393681
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/19450

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