Next-Generation Nano? Narratives of Synthetic Biology

Luis Campos
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
1 - 2:30 PM
CNS Conference Room, Girvetz 2320
Luis Campos

Assistant Professor of History

Drew University

Abstract:  Is synthetic biology the new new thing for nanostudies? Over the past decade, various laboratory efforts labeled "synthetic biology" often initially cultivated a self-consciously "revolutionary" identity, distancing their putatively new successes from previous efforts and visions of a reworking of life from the bottom-up. Discussion of nanotechnology was accordingly almost entirely absent from these early narratives and characterization of synthetic biology. More recently, however, as many synthetic biologists have increasingly sought to characterize their work as an improvement on or legatee of earlier efforts--as the "next-generation" engineering of life, drawing on insights from genetic and electrical engineering, the history of the software industry, and the experience of venture capital and governmental regulation, among others--points of convergence have been increasingly sought between synbio and other "emerging technologies" including nano. This talk, by a historian of biology, will explore how narratives of novelty and familiarity have been routinely deployed by practitioners, analysts, and policyheads alike in synthetic biology, and what this may mean for a consideration of synthetic biology as "the new new thing" for nanostudies.

Dr. Luis Campos is a historian of biology at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. His research integrates dusty archival discoveries with contemporary fieldwork, and centers on the shifting meanings of mutation in the history of genetics and  shifting mutations of meaning in contemporary synthetic biology. He has been actively engaged with the synthetic biology community since its "birth" in 2004.