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  1. Engineering and Evolvability.Brett Calcott - 2014 - Biology and Philosophy 29 (3):293-313.
    Comparing engineering to evolution typically involves adaptationist thinking, where well-designed artifacts are likened to well-adapted organisms, and the process of evolution is likened to the process of design. A quite different comparison is made when biologists focus on evolvability instead of adaptationism. Here, the idea is that complex integrated systems, whether evolved or engineered, share universal principles that affect the way they change over time. This shift from adaptationism to evolvability is a significant move for, as I argue, we can (...)
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  • Comparison Between the Work of Synthetic Biologists and the Action of Evolution: Engineering Versus Tinkering.Michel Morange - 2013 - Biological Theory 8 (4):318-323.
    The comparison between natural evolution and the action of a tinkerer has become highly popular since its reintroduction by François Jacob at the end of the 1970s. It has been used as a weapon against the existence of an “intelligent design” as well as a way for synthetic biologists to promote their ambitious projects. I will describe the complex history of this metaphor, and examine its pertinence. Whereas Darwin considered it as a way to describe how evolution proceeded, Jacob linked (...)
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  • From Bricolage to BioBricks™: Synthetic Biology and Rational Design.Tim Lewens - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4b):641-648.
    Synthetic biology is often described as a project that applies rational design methods to the organic world. Although humans have influenced organic lineages in many ways, it is nonetheless reasonable to place synthetic biology towards one end of a continuum between purely ‘blind’ processes of organic modification at one extreme, and wholly rational, design-led processes at the other. An example from evolutionary electronics illustrates some of the constraints imposed by the rational design methodology itself. These constraints reinforce the limitations of (...)
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  • Rational Engineering Principles in Synthetic Biology: A Framework for Quantitative Analysis and an Initial Assessment.Bernd Giese, Stefan Koenigstein, Henning Wigger, Jan C. Schmidt & Arnim von Gleich - 2013 - Biological Theory 8 (4):324-333.
    The term “synthetic biology” is a popular label of an emerging biotechnological field with strong claims to robustness, modularity, and controlled construction, finally enabling the creation of new organisms. Although the research community is heterogeneous, it advocates a common denominator that seems to define this field: the principles of rational engineering. However, it still remains unclear to what extent rational engineering—rather than “tinkering” or the usage of random based or non-rational processes—actually constitutes the basis for the techniques of synthetic biology. (...)
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  • Creating Parts That Allow for Rational Design: Synthetic Biology and the Problem of Context-Sensitivity.Stephan Güttinger - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (2):199-207.
    The parts-based engineering approach in synthetic biology aims to create pre-characterised biological parts that can be used for the rational design of novel functional systems. Given the context-sensitivity of biological entities, a key question synthetic biologists have to address is what properties these parts should have so that they give a predictable output even when they are used in different contexts. In the first part of this paper I will analyse some of the answers that synthetic biologists have given to (...)
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  • Engineering and Biology: Counsel for a Continued Relationship.Brett Calcott, Arnon Levy, Mark L. Siegal, Orkun S. Soyer & Andreas Wagner - 2015 - Biological Theory 10 (1):50-59.
    Biologists frequently draw on ideas and terminology from engineering. Evolutionary systems biology—with its circuits, switches, and signal processing—is no exception. In parallel with the frequent links drawn between biology and engineering, there is ongoing criticism against this cross-fertilization, using the argument that over-simplistic metaphors from engineering are likely to mislead us as engineering is fundamentally different from biology. In this article, we clarify and reconfigure the link between biology and engineering, presenting it in a more favorable light. We do so (...)
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  • Understanding Non-Modular Functionality – Lessons From Genetic Algorithms.Jaakko Kuorikoski & Samuli Pöyhönen - 2013 - Philosophy of Science 80 (5):637-649.
    Evolution is often characterized as a tinkerer that creates efficient but messy solutions to problems. We analyze the nature of the problems that arise when we try to explain and understand cognitive phenomena created by this haphazard design process. We present a theory of explanation and understanding and apply it to a case problem – solutions generated by genetic algorithms. By analyzing the nature of solutions that genetic algorithms present to computational problems, we show that the reason for why evolutionary (...)
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  • Varieties of Noise: Analogical Reasoning in Synthetic Biology.Tarja Knuuttila & Andrea Loettgers - 2014 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 48:76-88.
    The picture of synthetic biology as a kind of engineering science has largely created the public understanding of this novel field, covering both its promises and risks. In this paper, we will argue that the actual situation is more nuanced and complex. Synthetic biology is a highly interdisciplinary field of research located at the interface of physics, chemistry, biology, and computational science. All of these fields provide concepts, metaphors, mathematical tools, and models, which are typically utilized by synthetic biologists by (...)
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  • Interdisciplinary Interconnections in Synthetic Biology.Ulrich Krohs & Mark A. Bedau - 2013 - Biological Theory 8 (4):313-317.
  • Basic Science Through Engineering? Synthetic Modeling and the Idea of Biology-Inspired Engineering.Tarja Knuuttila & Andrea Loettgers - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (2):158-169.
    Synthetic biology is often understood in terms of the pursuit for well-characterized biological parts to create synthetic wholes. Accordingly, it has typically been conceived of as an engineering dominated and application oriented field. We argue that the relationship of synthetic biology to engineering is far more nuanced than that and involves a sophisticated epistemic dimension, as shown by the recent practice of synthetic modeling. Synthetic models are engineered genetic networks that are implanted in a natural cell environment. Their construction is (...)
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  • Basic Science Through Engineering?: Synthetic Modeling and the Idea of Biology-Inspired Engineering.Tarja Knuuttila & Andrea Loettgers - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (2):158-169.
    Synthetic biology is often understood in terms of the pursuit for well-characterized biological parts to create synthetic wholes. Accordingly, it has typically been conceived of as an engineering dominated and application oriented field. We argue that the relationship of synthetic biology to engineering is far more nuanced than that and involves a sophisticated epistemic dimension, as shown by the recent practice of synthetic modeling. Synthetic models are engineered genetic networks that are implanted in a natural cell environment. Their construction is (...)
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