Manufactured life: The scientific and social challenges of synthetic biology


Since biology became secularised and the molecular scrutiny of life began, the possibility of artificially synthesising living cells in a laboratory became a tangible possibility. Contemporary synthetic biology aspires to design and manufacture new forms of life to obtain social and economic benefits. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that the creation of synthetic life forms may also bring scientific rewards in terms of a greater understanding of biological complexity, which we would not be able to access through analytical means. It is clear, therefore, that the term synthetic biology raises expectations, but it is no less true that it also causes concern. This article starts with a critique of the identification of cells as machines and discusses the current scope of synthetic biology and efforts to standardise it. We also outline some of the social implications of attempts to manufacture life.


biotechnology; metaphor; artificial life; synthetic life; scientific communication

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