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Synthesis and the organism: biology, chemistry, and engineering

Berry, Dominic J. ORCID: 0000-0001-6276-0951 (2018) Synthesis and the organism: biology, chemistry, and engineering. . University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.

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Identification Number: 10.13140/RG.2.2.17137.74088


This workshop attended to the ways in which methods for the chemical synthesis of organic materials has mattered, and continues to matter, for biological science and technology. It adopted a fundamentally historical approach with a focus on the synthesis of DNA, and was informed by accounts from scientific practitioners, social scientists, museologists, philosophers, and historians. The workshop’s investigation was inspired by a focal point: the efforts of a small international community of scientists and engineers who from around the 1960s picked up the challenge of synthesizing nucleotide sequences without having to rely on finding desired sequences in existing organisms. This was the making of sequences through chemistry, technology and engineering. While the historiography of biotechnology is vast, the capacity for DNA synthesis itself has largely gone unnoticed, the vast majority of work focusing on techniques for recombination, its meanings, broader social significance, and reception amongst diverse publics. By staying focussed on the particularities of biological molecules as synthesised the workshop aimed to break new ground, drawing in material culture, engineering studies, and their historical, philosophical and sociological intersections. While DNA synthesis was the focal point, these activities needed to be understood in a longer and broader context, right up to the present. Speakers accordingly focussed on a range of periods, and highlighted different features when it came to synthesis and the organism, each with an emphasis on different kinds of scientific, commercial, or organic actor. Indeed it is no doubt thanks to the diversity of the kinds of actor involved that scholars in the history of science have yet to grapple with the cases addressed here, the majority staying within either chemistry, biology, or engineering. This workshop recognises that synthesis sits in an uncomfortable research space for historians and philosophers of science. It was dedicated to addressing this discomfort and producing materials for the systematic international investigation of nonbiological, or perhaps ‘mechano-chemical’ DNA synthesis, the philosophical questions it provokes, the historiographical revisionism it invites, and the social relations it changes. Part 1 of the report incorporates short summaries of the papers given (each of which was 20 minutes in length) and reports of the question period. Part 2 includes the biographies of our participants. In an annex we include copies of the workshop documentation.

Item Type: Monograph (Report)
Additional Information: © 2018 University of Edinburgh
Divisions: Economic History
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
Date Deposited: 25 Oct 2018 11:36
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 13:29
Projects: 616510-ENLIFE, EP/J02175X/1, ERC 694732-NARRATIVENSCIENCE
Funders: ERC, EPSRC

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