Synthetic biologists and conservation biologists are jointly working to “revive” extinct species such as the wooly mammoth and the passenger pigeon. They further propose engineering a bio-Eden out of a biological wasteland. This talk attends to narratives of biologically enabled historical salvage, asking how synthetic biology problematizes definitions of species purity. How do these synthetic biologists remake biology as an engineered demonstration of what living things might once have been and what engineered organisms might someday become?
Sophia Roosth is an associate professor in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. In her first book, Synthetic: How Life Got Made, Roosth asks what happens to “life” as a conceptual category when experimentation and fabrication converge. Grounded in an ethnographic study of synthetic biologists, she documents the social, cultural, rhetorical, taxonomic, economic, and imaginative transformations biology has undergone in the post-genomic age.
Roosth was the Joy Foundation Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (2013-2014). She earned her doctorate from the Program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010. Her recent publications have appeared in journals including Critical Inquiry, Representations,Differences, American Anthropologist, Science, and Grey Room.
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