Synthetic biology in high gloss
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In the early 2000s, ‘synthetic biology’ emerged as a label for a varied set of approaches to the design and assembly of new life forms in the lab. Among the practitioners pursuing the field is an engineer-turned-synthetic biologist named Drew Endy who was once hailed as perhaps “the next Steve Jobs” (Hotz, 2011). Endy’s version of synthetic biology sees biology becoming just another engineering substrate, albeit one with some special capabilities, out of which engineers will design and assemble novel biological systems. Yet Endy himself has been busily, and very visibly, assembling something other than novel and nifty organisms. That something else is the field of synthetic biology itself.
Endy is one of the authors behind the recent (in social scientific, not biotechnological terms) book Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Life. At the outset, I focus on Endy’s involvement in order to highlight a particular, and perhaps peculiar, feature of how...