Conceptual and empirical mixtures in translational science on metabolic engineering of cells with the hope to enable a sustainable future
Vibeke Pihl visits the STS methods lab seminar 23 September.
Vibeke Pihl is a sociologist currently employed as a postdoc. at the Center for Health Promotion at Roskilde University, Denmark.
About the talk:
Recently, a bioeconomy based on identifying and upgrading the value of underutilized waste streams has been emerging as a promise of hope for the Nordic Region. The proposal includes using translational science to establish cells from yeast and bacteria as “living cell factories” through the use of metabolic engineering to enable bio-based products of higher value for the market (e.g. pharmaceuticals, food, feed, chemicals and biofuel). Following scientists engaged in transforming cells into living factories at the Center for Biosustainability at the Technical University of Denmark, I will use a lateral approach to analysis (Jensen 2014) placing the empirical and conceptual on the same plane allowing the two to operate through “continuous variation” in which the science being analyzed informs social science used to analyze it, as much as the other way around. As such, I will engage closely with the methods, conceptions, and practices of scientists, extending the concept of metabolic engineering — and its goals of transforming cellular metabolisms to enable their faster conversions of biomasses – to translational science, related to a restructuring of science through fusing means and ends, as knowledge is already tied to a pipeline from which value can be extracted (Landecker 2013). The aim is to understand how the knowledge being generated in metabolic engineering is shaped through materialist practices that involve conceptual mixtures of cell biology and industrialism such as “living cell factories” and “metabolic engineering” that make up the infrastructure of the emergent bioeconomy. Engaging in lateral thinking, I will consider how the practices and conceptions of scientists collaborating with cells at the bench can enable a comparison with the convergences between interests in science, biotech industry and macro-level public policies. Considering the effects of convergences between basic science on cells, biotech industry and national interests, the aim is to broaden the ground for our thinking about how to proceed with the bioeconomy.