Fake cells and the aura of life: A philosophical diagnostic of synthetic life

Daphne Broeks, Yogi Hendlin, Hub Zwart*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Synthetic biology is often seen as the engineering turn in biology. Philosophically speaking, entities created by synthetic biology, from synthetic cells to xenobots, challenge the ontological divide between the organic and inorganic, as well as between the natural and the artificial. Entities such as synthetic cells can be seen as hybrid or transitory objects, or neo–things. However, what has remained philosophically underexplored so far is the impact these hybrid neo–things will have on (our phenomenological experience of) the living world. By extrapolating from Walter Benjamin's account of how technological reproducibility affects the aura of art, we embark upon an exploratory inquiry that seeks to fathom how the technological reproducibility of life itself may influence our experience and understanding of the living. We conclude that, much as technologies that enabled reproduction corroded the aura of original artworks (as Benjamin argued), so too will the aura of life be under siege in the era of synthetic lifeforms. This article zooms in on a specific case study, namely the research project Building a Synthetic Cell (BaSyC) and its mission to create a synthetic cell–like entity, as autonomous as possible, focusing on the properties that differentiate organic from synthetic cells.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100845
Number of pages9
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research is part of Building a Synthetic Cell (BaSyC), a gravitation project funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Grant reference number: 024.003.019.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s)


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