Computing metaphors and synthetic biology

The metaphors of computers and computing were very popular in the debate on synthetic biology, especially in quotes from scientists; the language was rich in codes, booting up, software, hardware, programming, executing and tagging. Venter says “it’s pretty stunning” to replace the DNA software in a cell.

“The cell instantly starts reading that new software, starts making a whole different set of proteins, and within a short while all the characteristics of the first species disappear and a new species emerges from the software that controls that cell going forward.”(Munro 2010)

Previously, “reading” was done by researchers or computers, while now it seems that cells do the reading and function as software, a chaining of metaphors that is quite novel in a media context.
While in the debate about the human genome the only parts of the computer/computing metaphor were those of codes and soft-ware (Nerlich and Hellsten 2004), in the debate on synthetic biology the metaphor was extended to cover booting up, tagging and executing, all new uses of themetaphor.

Really interesting article on Synthetic biology: building the language for a new science brick by metaphorical brick by Iina Hellsten and Brigitte Nerlich.


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