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Bidirectional Shaping and Spaces of Convergence: Interactions between Biology and Computing from the First DNA Sequencers to Global Genome Databases

Chow-White, PA   Garcia-Sancho, M

Science Technology & Human Values   37 (1) 124-164

DOI: 10.1177/0162243910397969

January 2012

This article proposes a new bi-directional way of understanding the convergence of biology and computing. It argues for a reciprocal interaction in which biology and computing have shaped and are currently reshaping each other. In so doing, we qualify both the view of a natural marriage and of a digital shaping of biology, which are common in the literature written by scientists, STS, and communication scholars. The DNA database is at the center of this interaction. We argue that DNA databases are spaces of convergence for computing and biology that change in form, meaning, and function from the 1960s to the 2000s. The first part of the article shows how, in the 1980s, DNA sequencing shifted from passively incorporating computers to be increasingly modeled in digital coding and decoding. Information retrieval algorithms, reciprocally, were altered according to the peculiarities of DNA in the first sequence-storage databases. The second part of the article investigates the impact of these reciprocal interactions and globalization on the organization of research centers, ways of conducting big science, and scientific values. Through convergence and new technologies such as data mining, biology and computing were transformed technologically, institutionally, and culturally into a new bio-data enterprise called genomics.