Synthetic Biology: A Bridge Between Functional and Evolutionary Biology

Biological Theory 4 (4):368-377 (2009)
The interests of synthetic biologists may appear to differ greatly from those of evolutionary biologists. The engineering of organisms must be distinguished from the tinkering action of evolution; the ambition of synthetic biologists is to overcome the limits of natural evolution. But the relations between synthetic biology and evolutionary biology are more complex than this abrupt opposition: Synthetic biology may play an important role in the increasing interactions between functional and evolutionary biology. In practice, synthetic biologists have learnt to submit the proteins and modules they construct to a Darwinian process of selection that optimizes their functioning. More importantly, synthetic biology can provide evolutionary biologists with decisive tools to test the scenarios they have elaborated by resurrecting some of the postulated intermediates in the evolutionary process, characterizing their properties, and experimentally testing the genetic changes supposed to be the source of new morphologies and functions. This synthetic, experimental evolution will renew and clarify many debates in evolutionary biology: It will lead to the explosion of some vague concepts as constraints, parallel evolution, and convergence, and replace them with precise mechanistic descriptions. In this way, synthetic biology resurrects the old philosophical debate about the relations between the real and the possible
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DOI 10.1162/BIOT_a_00003
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Catherine Elizabeth Kendig (2016). What is Proof of Concept. Science and Engineering Ethics 22 (3):735-753.
Tim Lewens (2013). From Bricolage to BioBricks™: Synthetic Biology and Rational Design. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):641-648.

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