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.

Bioinformatics, Systems Biology, Synthetic Biology: new paradigms or changes in fashion?

[This is an article I wrote for a major Greek newspaper “VIΜΑ” which was published on the 5th of February 2010. There is going to be a small Greek twist to this blog as well. First the article – loosely translated by me – in English and then the original in Greek.]

In just one decade in the science of biology three “new” areas were “created”. In 2000 everyone thought that Bioinformatics is the future of biology. After the final sequence of the human genome, three years later, everyone was talking about Systems biology.Today, at the end of this decade, the focus is Synthetic Biology. It is therefore perfectly reasonable to wonder if these areas are indeed new, if a new paradigm is being created. Is the science of biology changing with with unprecedented high rates or do scientists give to their research the newest, and therefore most attractive name in order to increase their opportunities of getting funding?

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