Making big promises come true? Articulating and realizing value in synthetic biology

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Synthetic biology is an emerging approach to biotechnology that strives to use engineering principles and practices to design and make new organisms. Proponents of synthetic biology have big aspirations for this field, citing potential for an industrial revolution in biotechnology. This article is concerned with how value is being negotiated and constituted through practice in synthetic biology - through the promises being made, through the objects and products being produced, through the initiatives and institutions being established, and through the work practices and justificatory strategies of synthetic biologists. In particular, I focus on negotiations surrounding the making, use and circulation of BioBrick™ standard biological parts. BioBricks are presented as tools that will make genetic engineering more efficient and reliable, and are accompanied by a particular imagination of innovation and value creation in synthetic biology. But exploring valuation practices in action reveals a number of sites of ambivalence and contestation over the BioBrick approach to synthetic biology. Through a series of vignettes, I show how these negotiations over the promises and practices surrounding BioBricks are configuring the epistemic foundations and design space of the field, and are helping to define what value means in synthetic biology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)432-448
Number of pages17
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • BioBricks
  • biocapital
  • moral economy
  • standards
  • synthetic biology
  • value

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy


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