Synthetic Biology and the Emergence of a Dual Meaning of Noise

Biological Theory 4 (4):340-356 (2009)
The question is discussed how noise gained a functional meaning in the context of biology. According to the common view, noise is considered a disturbance or perturbation. I analyze how this understanding changed and what kind of developments during the last 10 years contributed to the emergence of a new understanding of noise. Results gained during a field study in a synthetic biology laboratory show that the emergence of this new research discipline—its highly interdisciplinary character, its new technologies and novel modeling strategies—provided essential impulses, which led to the observed change in the concept of noise. The laboratory study is combined with a historical analysis, which explores the general question as to how concepts travel between disciplines and, specifically, how noise was transferred from engineering and physics into biology. In the past, scientists, such as Lotka and Goodwin, tried to introduce a statistical mechanics into biology and discussed the problem of “unfitting” concepts. The change in the meaning of the concept can be interpreted as a way of making it fit to the novel context in which it is applied
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DOI 10.1162/BIOT_a_00009
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Maureen A. O'Malley & Orkun S. Soyer (2012). The Roles of Integration in Molecular Systems Biology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 43 (1):58-68.
Tarja Knuuttila & Andrea Loettgers (2013). Basic Science Through Engineering? Synthetic Modeling and the Idea of Biology-Inspired Engineering. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (2):158-169.

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