Sequencing through thick and thin: Historiographical and philosophical implications
Publication date: Available online 15 October 2018Source: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical SciencesAuthor(s): James W.E. LoweAbstractDNA sequencing has been characterised by scholars and life scientists as an example of ‘big’, ‘fast’ and ‘automated’ science in biology. This paper argues, however, that these characterisations are a product of a particular interpretation of what sequencing is, what I call ‘thin sequencing’. The ‘thin sequencing’ perspective focuses on the determination of the order of bases in a particular stretch of DNA. Based upon my research on the pig genome mapping and sequencing projects, I provide an alternative ‘thick sequencing’ perspective, which also includes a number of practices that enable the sequence to travel across and be used in wider communities. If we take sequencing in the thin manner to be an event demarcated by the determination of sequences in automated sequencing machines and computers, this has consequences for the historical analysis of sequencing projects, as it focuses attention on those parts of the work of sequencing that are more centralised, fast (and accelerating) and automated. I argue instead that sequencing can be interpreted as a more open-ended process including activities such as the generation of a minimum tile path or annotation, and detail the historiographical and ...
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