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Creating parts that allow for rational design: synthetic biology and the problem of context-sensitivity

Güttinger, Stephan ORCID: 0000-0001-9448-973X (2013) Creating parts that allow for rational design: synthetic biology and the problem of context-sensitivity. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 44 (2). pp. 199-207. ISSN 1369-8486

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Identification Number: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2013.03.015


The parts-based engineering approach in synthetic biology aims to create pre-characterised biological parts that can be used for the rational design of novel functional systems. Given the context-sensitivity of biological entities, a key question synthetic biologists have to address is what properties these parts should have so that they give a predictable output even when they are used in different contexts. In the first part of this paper I will analyse some of the answers that synthetic biologists have given to this question and claim that the focus of these answers on parts and their properties does not allow us to tackle the problem of context-sensitivity. In the second part of the paper, I will argue that we might have to abandon the notions of parts and their properties in order to understand how independence in biology could be achieved. Using Robert Cummins' account of functional analysis, I will then develop the notion of a capacity and its condition space and show how these notions can help to tackle the problem of context-sensitivity in biology.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2013 Elsevier Ltd
Divisions: CPNSS
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history
Date Deposited: 28 May 2013 08:27
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 01:38
Funders: Swiss National Science Foundation

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