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Engineering and Biology: Counsel for a Continued Relationship


Calcott, Brett; Levy, Arnon; Siegal, Mark L; Soyer, Orkun S; Wagner, Andreas (2015). Engineering and Biology: Counsel for a Continued Relationship. Biological Theory, 10(1):50-59.

Abstract

Biologists frequently draw on ideas and terminology from engineering. Evolutionary systems biology—with its circuits, switches, and signal processing—is no exception. In parallel with the frequent links drawn between biology and engineering, there is ongoing criticism against this cross-fertilization, using the argument that over-simplistic metaphors from engineering are likely to mislead us as engineering is fundamentally different from biology. In this article, we clarify and reconfigure the link between biology and engineering, presenting it in a more favorable light. We do so by, first, arguing that critics operate with a narrow and incorrect notion of how engineering actually works, and of what the reliance on ideas from engineering entails. Second, we diagnose and diffuse one significant source of concern about appeals to engineering, namely that they are inherently and problematically metaphorical. We suggest that there is plenty of fertile ground left for a continued, healthy relationship between engineering and biology.

Abstract

Biologists frequently draw on ideas and terminology from engineering. Evolutionary systems biology—with its circuits, switches, and signal processing—is no exception. In parallel with the frequent links drawn between biology and engineering, there is ongoing criticism against this cross-fertilization, using the argument that over-simplistic metaphors from engineering are likely to mislead us as engineering is fundamentally different from biology. In this article, we clarify and reconfigure the link between biology and engineering, presenting it in a more favorable light. We do so by, first, arguing that critics operate with a narrow and incorrect notion of how engineering actually works, and of what the reliance on ideas from engineering entails. Second, we diagnose and diffuse one significant source of concern about appeals to engineering, namely that they are inherently and problematically metaphorical. We suggest that there is plenty of fertile ground left for a continued, healthy relationship between engineering and biology.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Adaptationism; Design; Engineering; Evolutionary systems biology; Evolvability; Gene regulation; Metaphor
Language:English
Date:14 January 2015
Deposited On:05 Feb 2015 08:18
Last Modified:08 Dec 2017 11:58
Publisher:Springer
ISSN:1555-5542
Additional Information:The final publication is available at Springer via http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s13752-014-0198-3
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1007/s13752-014-0198-3
PubMed ID:26085824

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