Making Knowledge in Synthetic Biology: Design Meets Kludge

Biological Theory 4 (4):378-389 (2009)
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Synthetic biology is an umbrella term that covers a range of aims, approaches, and techniques. They are all brought together by common practices of analogizing, synthesizing, mechanicizing, and kludging. With a focus on kludging as the connection point between biology, engineering, and evolution, I show how synthetic biology’s successes depend on custom-built kludges and a creative, “make-it-work” attitude to the construction of biological systems. Such practices do not fit neatly, however, into synthetic biology’s celebration of rational design. Nor do they straightforwardly embody Richard Feynman’s “last blackboard” statement that without creating something it cannot be understood. Reflecting further on the relationship between synthetic construction and knowledge making gives philosophy of science new avenues of insight into scientific practice



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