Towards a holistic conception of life? Presumptions and implications of systems biology as an integrative concept in modern life sciences

In modern biology, the large amount of data is increasingly difficult to manage and understand. Systems biology promises a more holistic understanding of biological processes. Towards a Holistic Conception of Life (THCL) looks into ethical, legal and social consequences of this development.

After the successful analysis of the human genome and those of other organisms Systems Biology introduces a major shift in molecular biology: Scientific attention now focuses on the complexity and dynamics of biological processes. Systems Biology opens up new ways of modelling, understanding and manipulating living systems.It claims to provide a holistic understanding of biological entities and processes and, ultimately, of life itself, overcoming the conceptual and operational shortcomings of more linear approaches.

However, it may also cause its own ethical, legal and social consequences, which might go far beyond those of earlier concepts and practices in molecular biology.

ITA’s contribution to the project was a detailed description of current Systems Biology in Germany and Austria and an analysis of inherent preconditions and implications.

In collaboration with its German partners it engaged in a dialogue with young and senior system biology researchers and societal protagonists who are involved in the diffusion and regulation of systems biology and its findings. This included an overview of the framework of Systems Biology in the media, in science and in policy documents as well as an empirical-based summary of the socio-cultural implications, the potentials for future innovation and regulatory issues.



  • Torgersen, H., Bogner, A., & Kastenhofer, K. (2013). The Power of Framing in Technology Governance: The Case of Biotechnologies (ITA-manu:script 13-01). doi:10.1553/ITA-ms-13-01
  • Kastenhofer, K. (2013). Technikgeschichte als analytische Ressource für das Verständnis gegenwärtiger Technowissenschaft. Erwägen – Wissen – Ethik, 25, 553-556.
  • Kastenhofer, K., Torgersen, H., Klein, F., & Klement, L. -L. (2012). Systems Biology in Austria 2011 – The Establishment of a New Field in a National Context (p. 108). Wien. doi:/10.1553/ITA-pb-c28
  • Kastenhofer, K. (2012). Qualitätssicherung und Verantwortung in den Technowissenschaften. Ita-Newsletter, 7 f.Retrieved from
  • Kastenhofer, K., & Schwarz, A. (Eds.). (2011). Poiesis & Praxis – Special Issue (8/2-3): Probing Technoscience. (C. F. Gethmann, Tran.), Probing Technoscience (p. 106). Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer.
  • Kastenhofer, K., & Schmidt, J. C. (2011). Technoscientia est Potentia? Contemplative, interventionist, constructionist and creationist idea(l)s in technoscience. Poiesis &Amp; Praxis [Online First: 30/11/2011], 8, 125-149. doi:10.1007/s10202-011-0101-2
  • Kastenhofer, K., & Schwarz, A. (2011). Probing technoscience. Poiesis &Amp; Praxis, 8, 61-65. doi:10.1007/s10202-011-0103-0
  • Kastenhofer, K., & Schmidt, J. C. (2011). On intervention, construction and creation: power and knowledge in technoscience and late-modern technology. In T. Zülsdorf, Coenen, C., Ferrari, A., Fiedeler, U., Milburn, C., & Wienroth, M. (Eds.), Quantum Engagements – Social Reflections of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies (pp. 177-193). Heidelberg: Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft AKA.
  • Kastenhofer, K. (2011). Mit der Systembiologie im Dialog. Ita-Newsletter, 3 f.Retrieved from
  • Kastenhofer, K., & Torgersen, H. (2011). Wie "neu" ist Synthetische Biologie?. Ita-Newsletter, 18. Retrieved from
  • Kollek, R., Döring, M., Petersen, I., Brüninghaus, A., Kastenhofer, K., & Torgersen, H. (2011). Systembiologie: Implikationen für Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft. Technikfolgenabschätzung – Theorie Und Praxis, 20 (1), 60-64. Retrieved from
  • Kastenhofer, K. (2010). Interdisziplinarität und Technowissenschaft. Ita-Newsletter, 12 f.Retrieved from
  • Kastenhofer, K. (2010). Vom Umgang mit den neuen Technowissenschaften. Ita-Newsletter, 7 f.Retrieved from
  • Kastenhofer, K. (2010). Do we need a specific kind of technoscience assessment? Taking the convergence of science and technology seriously. Poiesis &Amp; Praxis – International Journal Of Ethics Of Science And Technology Assessment, 7, 37-54.
  • Kastenhofer, K., & Allhutter, D. (2010). Guest Editorial: Technoscience and Technology Assessment. Poiesis &Amp; Praxis – International Journal Of Ethics Of Science And Technology Assessment, 7, 1-4. Retrieved from
  • Kastenhofer, K., & Torgersen, H. (2010). Systembiologie: Der ganzheitliche Ansatz in den neuen Lebenswissenschaften. Ita-Newsletter, 4 f.Retrieved from
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Conference Papers/Speeches

Conference Papers/Speeches

  • 15/11/2012 , Berlin
    Helge Torgersen: 
    Gründungsmythen der Systembiologie: Entstehungsnarrative einer neuen Disziplin in den Biowissenschaften
    Workshop „Erzählung und Geltung“ am Institut für deutsche Literatur der Humboldt-Universität
  • 23/04/2012 , London
    Helge Torgersen: 
    Foundational 'mythologies' of systems biology: Narratives of an emerging discipline in the biosciences
    ESRC Genomics Network Conference 2012 'Genomics in Society: Facts, Fictions and Cultures'
  • 26/01/2012 , Os
    Helge Torgersen: 
    Frames and Comparators: How might a debate on Synthetic biology evolve?
    Workhop 'Synthetic biology: Views from the Future'
  • 26/01/2012 , Os
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Synthetic biology as understanding, control, construction AND creation? Techno-epistemic constellations in synthetic biology
    Synthetic Biology: Views From the Future
  • 19/01/2012 , Hamburg
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Techno-epistemic cultures of systems and synthetic biology: reassembling epistemic constellations
    Different Forms of Life? Comparative Perspectives on Systems and Synthetic Biology
  • 11/10/2011 , Hamburg
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Die Rolle epistemischer Kulturen in der Risikobewertung neuer Technologien
    Forschungsschwerpunkt Biotechnik, Gesellschaft und Umwelt (BIOGUM)
  • 23/09/2011 , Wien
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Only a question of times? Temporealities within systems biology research and its governance
    Governing Futures. Imagining, Negotiating & Taming Emerging Technosciences
  • 31/08/2011 , Heidelberg/Mannheim
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Does systems biology have its own scientific community?
    12th International Conference on Systems Biology, Workshop "Towards a holistic conception of life? Epistemic presumptions and socio-cultural implications of systems biology"
  • 23/06/2011 , Exeter
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    The interdisciplinary culture of the new technosciences: re-assembling epistemic constellations in systems biology and synthetic biology
    3rd biennial conference of the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice (SPSP)
  • 17/11/2010 , Klagenfurt
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Was passiert mit Wissenschaftskulturen, wenn Disziplinengrenzen obsolet werden? Interdisziplinarität im techno-wissenschaftlichen Kontext
    Forschungstag 'Wissenschaftskulturen'
  • 09/11/2010 , Wien
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Die neuen Technowissenschaften: hybride Praktiken, Governance-Regimes oder performative Diskurse?
    Ringvorlesung 'Sind wir nie modern gewesen? Gender in der technologisierten Leistungsgesellschaft'
  • 30/09/2010 , Darmstadt
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Beyond nature and culture: (Baconian) technosciences and 'their power to change the world'
    2nd Annual Conference of the Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies
  • 22/09/2010 , Exeter
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    On Types and Roles of Interdisciplinarity within Systems Biology Research
    Frontiers of multidisciplinary research: mathematics, engineering, and biology
  • 18/09/2010 , Hamburg
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    What happens to interdisciplinarity when disciplines become extinct? On interdisciplinarity in a technoscientific context
    Workshop on 'Philosophy of / as Interdisciplinarity'
  • 03/09/2010 , Trento
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    On the technosciences´ power to change the world
    EASST Biennial Conference 2010
  • 03/09/2010 , Trento
    Helge Torgersen,  Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Combining discourse analysis and ethnography in research on the epistemic culture of systems biology
    EASST Biennial Conference 2010
  • 16/06/2010 , London
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Epistemic cultures at the microlevel
    BIOS visitor forum (London School of Economics)
  • 09/06/2010 , Wien
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Between science and technology: multiple orientations within epistemic cultures
    Risky Entanglements: contemporary research cultures imagined and practised
  • 01/06/2010 , Wien
    Helge Torgersen,  Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Ethische Problematisierung von Technowissenschaften – Synthetische Biologie und Systembiologie im Vergleich
    TA'10 – Die Ethisierung der Technik und ihre Folgen für die Technikfolgenabschätzung
  • 18/05/2010 , London
    Karen Kastenhofer: 
    Technoscience and Risk Regulation - a Non-Trivial Relationship
    Public seminar (London School of Economics, Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation)
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12/2009 - 03/2012