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.
In past technology controversies, aspects such as risk or ethics have played a major role, apart from economic arguments. Public debates on agricultural biotechnology or biomedicine differed in the dominant aspect they addressed, respectively. This article specifies such aspects as discursive frames being tacit agreements over what is relevant and which arguments count. It investigates the role of frames in past debates and the relation between frames and issues relevant for technology governance such as policy advice, public participation and the political legitimation of decisions. For a newly emerging technology such as synthetic biology, the framing of a debate to come is often expected to follow patterns known from previous debates, and to influence governance in a foreseeable way. However, new frames might emerge that could change both the debate on and the governance of emerging technologies.
This report is embedded in the larger research project ‘Towards a Holistic Conception of Life? Epistemic Presumptions and Socio-Cultural Implications of Systems Biology’, conducted jointly by the Institute of Technology Assessment at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Research Centre for Biotechnology, Society, and the Environment (FSP BIOGUM) at the University of Hamburg.
It gives a first overview of the state of establishment and institutionalisation of systems biology in Austria in 2011. It is based upon a methodical investigation of scientists, institutions, research projects, university courses and publications making use of the term ‘systems biology’ in this national context and puts an emphasis on the completeness and reproducibility of the reported results. The most relevant institutions are enlisted along three categories and shortly characterised.
Overall, the state of establishment of systems biology is much less advanced than in Germany, the United Kingdom or Switzerland. It takes place on a smaller scale and is driven by a more cautious attitude. Also, it takes place in a more diverse and fragmented mode. Only a few, small institutes carry the label in their name and systems biology is (at least as a label) almost absent in university curricula.
The rightful attribution or meaning of the label ‘systems biology’ is not questioned at this point; rather, different configurations of doing systems biology are addressed tentatively by co-authorship analyses, discipline-based categorisations, historical timelines and geographical analyses. Moreover, general problems relating to such an early onwards assessment of the state of a new scientific field are discussed in the introduction.
Within the realm of nano-, bio-, info- and cogno- (or NBIC) technosciences, the ‘power to change the world’ is often invoked. One could dismiss such formulations as ‘purely rhetorical’, interpret them as rhetorical and self-fulﬁlling or view them as an adequate depiction of one of the fundamental characteristics of technoscience. In the latter case, a very speciﬁc nexus between science and technology, or, the epistemic and the constructionist realm is envisioned. The following paper focuses on this nexus drawing on theoretical conceptions as well as empirical material. It presents an overview of different technoscientiﬁc ways to ‘change the world’—via contemplation and representation, intervention and control, engineering, construction and creation. It further argues that the hybrid character of technoscience makes it difﬁcult (if not impossible) to separate knowledge production from real world interventions and challenges current science and technology policy approaches in fundamental ways.
This paper addresses the new (techno-) sciences’ power “to change the world.” It refers to Bacon’s program to combine “light-bearing” and “fruitbearing” in scientific research and traces this program in current scientific contexts, especially nanotechnoscience and synthetic biology. To allow for a more differentiated analysis, three modes of power are discerned: interventionist, constructionist and creationist power. Against this background, the paper describes the emergence of a late-modern technology that relates to a convergence of biology, physics and engineering as well as a distinct (techno-)science-power constellation. The conclusion calls for a technoscience assessment that goes beyond traditional technology assessment.
Die Systembiologie zielt darauf ab, biologische Prozesse und Organismen in ihrer Gesamtheit zu verstehen. Theoretisch und forschungspraktisch werden entsprechende Ansätze seit knapp zwei Jahrzehnten verfolgt. Als Weiterführung der Genomforschung haben sie bereits viele Bereiche der biomedizinischen Forschung durchdrungen. Allerdings ist bisher wenig über die weiterreichende Bedeutung systemorientierter Ansätze für die modernen Lebenswissenschaften bekannt. Auch ihre normativen, sozialen und rechtlichen Implikationen sind weitgehend unerforscht. Dieser Artikel beschreibt Hintergrund, Ziele und Forschungsstrategie eines binationalen Verbundprojekts, das die Systembiologie in Deutschland und Österreich aus Perspektive der Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung empirisch untersucht. Partner sind der Forschungsschwerpunkt Biotechnik, Gesellschaft und Umwelt (BIOGUM) der Universität Hamburg und das Institut für Technikfolgen-Abschätzung (ITA) der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien.
12/2009 - 03/2012