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School of Social and Political Science: Research


Engineering Life: Ideas, Practices, and Promises

Principal Investigator:

Dr Jane Clavert



“Engineering Life” is one of two major European Research Council grants currently held by staff in Science, Technology, and Innovation Studies (STIS). This €1.5 million Consolidator Grant leverages the extensive long-term research and engagement of Jane Calvert (PI, STIS), Pablo Schyfter (STIS), and Emma Frow (now Arizona State University) with synthetic biology. The multi-disciplinary team also includes Research Fellows Dominic Berry, Deborah Scott and Erika Szymanski, and several PhD students.

Synthetic biology promises to inaugurate a new biotechnical revolution by developing tools to engineer the living world. Social scientists are asked to participate in synthetic biology research and governance to a virtually unprecedented degree, but rarely funded to pursue their own research questions independent of specific scientific or policy agendas. “Engineering Life” recognizes the need for such work.

Calvert and her multi-disciplinary team study the ideas, practices, and promises that emerge when engineering ideals are applied to living systems. Their foci for the analysis of this confluence of engineering and life include: a contemporary history of plant synthetic biology, transnational governance of biodiversity and biological containment, gender identity formation in biological engineering, and an international effort to build a synthetic yeast genome. The project is positioned to be a landmark not only in social dimensions of synthetic biology, but in how social scientists engage with scientific fields.

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