Towards an Appreciation of Biological, Scientific and Ethical Complexity

The goals of Systems and synthetic biology are often described with words like prediction, control, design and fabrication of organisms. If this was to become a reality, the ethical and social consequences in areas like biological safety and abuse prevention would be huge.

The project, which combines Science and Technology Studies and theoretical biology, aims at clarifying and assessing ambitions and implications of systems biology. It uses an interdisciplinary approach between natural and social sciences, contributing to a reflexive and socially robust systems biology.

This involved an overview of existing and currently recognised possible future designs of theoretical models in systems biology and a critical assessment of the potential and limitations of these designs, applying the work of Robert Rosen and other complexity theorists.

It also included a mapping of the perceived potentials and limitations of systems biology and synthetic biology with respect to long-term future knowledge and technology outputs, taking into consideration the prospects of design and fabrication of life forms. The results were presented in the form of an STS-complexity theory inspired model that which took into account the complexity of the organism to be studied/fabricated, as well as the complex relationships between study object, knowledge and scientific practice.

Another result was a mapping of the potential ethical and social aspects of the outputs and a normative analysis of how the awareness of these aspects can and should be handled in scientific practice, science policy, and governance of science.

ITA was analysing the influence that analogies to three other new sciences, namely Genetic Engineering, Nanotechnology and Computer Technology, have on the perception of Synthetic Biology and the way this field is communicated. First results will be published soon in a special issue of the journal Futures.



  • Kastenhofer, K. (2012). Qualitätssicherung und Verantwortung in den Technowissenschaften. Ita-Newsletter, 7 f.Retrieved from
  • Torgersen, H. (2009). Reflexive Systembiologie: Auf dem Weg zur Erfassung biologischer, wissenschaftlicher und ethischer Komplexität. Ita-Newsletter, 7. Retrieved from
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Conference Papers/Speeches

Conference Papers/Speeches


12/2009 - 08/2011


  • Helge Torgersen