Discussions about a replicability crisis in science have been driven by the normative claim that all of science should be replicable and the empirical claim that most of it isn’t. Recently, such crisis talk has been challenged by a new localism, which argues a) that serious problems with replicability are not a general occurrence in science and b) that replicability itself should not be treated as a universal standard. The goal of this article is to introduce this emerging strand of (...) the debate and to discuss some of its implications and limitations. I will in particular highlight the issue of demarcation that localist accounts have to address, i.e. the question of how we can distinguish replicable science from disciplines where replicability does not apply. (shrink)
The life sciences are said to be in the midst of a replication crisis because a majority of published results are irreproducible, and scientists rarely replicate existing data. Here I argue that point 2 of this assessment is flawed because there is a hitherto unidentified form of replication in the experimental life sciences, which I call ‘microreplications’. Using a case study from biochemistry, I illustrate how MRs depend on a key element of experimentation, namely, experimental controls. I end by reflecting (...) on what MRs mean for the broader debate about the replication crisis. (shrink)
In 2015 scientists called for a partial ban on genome editing in human germline cells. This call was a response to the rapid development of the CRISPR–Cas9 system, a molecular tool that allows researchers to modify genomic DNA in living organisms with high precision and ease of use. Importantly, the ban was meant to be a trust-building exercise that promises a ‘prudent’ way forward. The goal of this paper is to analyse whether the ban can deliver on this promise. To (...) do so the focus will be put on the precedent on which the current ban is modelled, namely the Asilomar ban on recombinant DNA technology. The analysis of this case will show (a) that the Asilomar ban was successful because of a specific two-step containment strategy it employed and (b) that this two-step approach is also key to making the current ban work. It will be argued, however, that the Asilomar strategy cannot be transferred to human genome editing and that the current ban therefore fails to deliver on its promise. The paper will close with a reflection on the reasons for this failure and on what can be learned from it about the regulation of novel molecular tools. (shrink)
The reported birth of genetically modified twins in late 2018 has given new fuel to debates about the ethics of germline genome editing (GGE). There is a broad consensus among stakeholders that clinical uses of GGE should be temporarily banned as the technology is not yet deemed safe for use in humans. However, the idea of a complete ban is dismissed by many based on the expectation that more research will eventually allow scientists to make the technology safe without having (...) to put humans at risk first. In this article, I will analyse this assumption and argue that it is undermined by recent developments in the postgenomic life sciences. In particular, I will argue that in a postgenomic view of germline editing a complete ban on specific uses of the technology is warranted, because the research needed to assess the safety of these interventions would not be morally defensible. (shrink)
The parts-based engineering approach in synthetic biology aims to create pre-characterised biological parts that can be used for the rational design of novel functional systems. Given the context-sensitivity of biological entities, a key question synthetic biologists have to address is what properties these parts should have so that they give a predictable output even when they are used in different contexts. In the first part of this paper I will analyse some of the answers that synthetic biologists have given to (...) this question and claim that the focus of these answers on parts and their properties does not allow us to tackle the problem of context-sensitivity. In the second part of the paper, I will argue that we might have to abandon the notions of parts and their properties in order to understand how independence in biology could be achieved. Using Robert Cummins’ account of functional analysis, I will then develop the notion of a capacity and its condition space and show how these notions can help to tackle the problem of context-sensitivity in biology. (shrink)
RNA is central to the COVID-19 pandemic—it shapes how the SARS Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) behaves, and how researchers investigate and fight it. However, RNA has received relatively little attention in the history and philosophy of the life sciences. By analysing RNA biology in more detail, philosophers and historians of science could gain new and powerful tools to assess the current pandemic, and the biological sciences more generally.
Dicer is a key player in microRNA (miRNA) and RNA interference (RNAi) pathways, processing miRNA precursors and doublestranded RNA into ~21-nt-long products ultimately triggering sequence-dependent gene silencing. Although processing of substrates in vertebrate cells occurs in the cytoplasm, there is growing evidence suggesting Dicer is also present and functional in the nucleus. To address this possibility, we searched for a nuclear localization signal (NLS) in human Dicer and identified its C-terminal double-stranded RNA binding domain (dsRBD) as harboring NLS activity. We (...) show that the dsRBD-NLS can mediate nuclear import of a reporter protein via interaction with importins β, 7, and 8. In the context of full-length Dicer, the dsRBD-NLS is masked. However, duplication of the dsRBD localizes the full-length protein to the nucleus. Furthermore, deletion of the N-terminal helicase domain results in partial accumulation of Dicer in the nucleus upon leptomycin B treatment, indicating that CRM1 contributes to nuclear export of Dicer. Finally, we demonstrate that human Dicer has the ability to shuttle between the nucleus and the cytoplasm. We conclude that Dicer is a shuttling protein whose steady-state localization is cytoplasmic. (shrink)