Genetic information in the age of DNA sequencing

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The claim that genes encode and transmit information is a central conceptual tenet in biomedicine. Historians have placed the origins of this claim in the rise of molecular biology after World War II, and philosophers still debate the utility of understanding genes as information for biomedical research. In this article, I will investigate how “genetic information” as both a concept and a model for experimental practice was affected by the emergence in the mid-1970s of technologies that enabled scientists to determine the sequence of chemical units of DNA, the molecule that constitutes genetic material. I argue that DNA sequencing, rather than changing the meaning of genetic information, transformed the possibilities of what could be achieved with this concept and directed it to large-scale enterprises such as the Human Genome Project. Thus, my argument suggests that scientific concepts should be regarded as entities that, beyond abstract thinking, enable researchers to do things—in this case, embarking on a multi-million-dollar project aimed at sequencing the information encoded in the human genome.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-142
Number of pages33
JournalInformation & Culture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2015


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