Jane Calvert

Jane Calvert
Dr Jane Calvert
Reader in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies
Science Technology and Innovation StudiesSchool of Social and Political ScienceUniversity of Edinburgh
Old Surgeons' Hall High School Yards Edinburgh UK EH1 1LZ
+44 (0)131 650 9126
Research Interests
Science and technology studies, Sociology of Science, Philosophy of biology, Science policy, Engineering studies, Synthetic biology, Systems biology, Interdisciplinary collaborations


I work in the area of the sociology of the life sciences, and my current research focuses on attempts to engineer living things in the emerging field of synthetic biology. I have a long-standing interest in interdisciplinary collaborations of all sorts. I draw on the sociology and anthropology of science, the philosophy of biology, and science policy in my work.

I have an undergraduate degree in Human Sciences from Sussex and an MSc in the History and Philosophy of Science from the LSE. I did my doctoral work at SPRU, University of Sussex, on the idea of 'basic research'. From 2002-2007 I worked as a research fellow at the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society (Egenis) at the University of Exeter. I started at the University of Edinburgh in July 2007.

Research grants


Previous (selected)

Research interests

  • The engineering of living things
    • the uptake of engineering ideas and practices in the life sciences
    • design, evolution and values in the engineering of biology
    • sociological/philosophical analysis of engineering 'life'
  • Interdisciplinary collaborations
    • between scientists and engineers
    • between scientists, engineers and social scientists
    • between scientists, engineers, social scientists and artists and designers
  • STS and science policy
    • ontology and intellectual property in the life sciences
    • the governance of emerging technologies
    • the 'normative turn' and policy engagement in STS

Policy engagement

I was a member of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Working Party on Synthetic Biology, the UK Synthetic Biology Roadmap Coordination Group, the Hastings Center Working Group on Ethical Issues in Synthetic Biology and the Nuffield Council of Bioethics Working Party on Emerging Biotechnologies. I am currently a member of the BBSRC’s BioScience and Society Strategy Panel.


Schyfter, P and Calvert, J (2015) ‘Intentions, expectations and institutions: engineering the future of synthetic biology in the US and the UK’ Science as Culture 24 (4): 359–383

Calvert, J and Frow, E (2015) ‘The synthetic yeast project as a topic for social scientific investigation’ Macquarie Law Review 15: 27-37

Ginsberg, D, Calvert, J, Schyfter, P, Elfick, A and Endy, D (2014) Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology's Designs on Nature Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Calvert, J (2014) 'Governing in the context of uncertainty' commentary in the special edition 'Synthetic future: can we create what we want out of synthetic biology?' Hastings Center Report 44(6): S31-S33

Calvert, J (2013) 'Collaboration as a research method? Navigating social scientific involvement in synthetic biology' in Doorn, N, Schuurbiers, D, van de Poel, I, Gorman, M (eds) Early engagement and new technologies: Opening up the laboratory Dordrecht: Springer

Calvert, J (2013) 'Systems biology, big science and grand challenges' BioSocieties 8 (4): 466-479

Calvert, J and Frow, E (2013) 'Social Dimensions of Microbial Synthetic Biology' in Harwood, C and Wipat, N (eds) Microbial Synthetic Biology (Methods in Microbiology Series, Volume 40) Burlington: Elsevier Academic Press, 69-86

Frow, E and Calvert, J (2013) 'Opening up the future(s) of synthetic biology' Futures 48: 32-43

Schyfter, P, Frow E and Calvert, J (2013) ‘Synthetic biology: Making Biology into an Engineering Discipline’ Guest editorial for special edition of Engineering Studies 5 (1): 1-5

Frow, E and Calvert, J (2013) '"Can simple biological systems be built from standardized interchangeable parts?" Negotiating biology and engineering in a synthetic biology competition' Engineering Studies 5 (1): 42-58

Calvert, J (2013) 'Engineering biology and society: reflections on synthetic biology' Science, Technology & Society 18 (3): 405-420

Calvert, J (2012) 'Ownership and sharing in synthetic biology: a 'diverse ecology' of the open and the proprietary?' BioSocieties 7 (2): 169-187

Wiek, A, Guston, D, Frow, E and Calvert, J (2012) 'Sustainability and anticipatory governance in synthetic biology' International Journal of Social Ecology and Sustainable Development 3 (2): 25-38

Calvert, J (2012) 'Systems biology, synthetic biology and data-driven research: a commentary on Krohs, Callebaut, and O’Malley and Soyer' Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (1): 81–84

Bostanci. A, Calvert, J and Joly, PB (2012) 'Regulating gene regulation: Patenting small RNAs' Intellectual Property and Emerging Technologies: The New Biology Rimmer, M and McLennan, A (eds) Cheltenham: Edward Elgar

Calvert, J and Fujimura, J (2011) 'Calculating life? Duelling discourses in interdisciplinary systems biology' Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 42 (2): 155-163 (pdf of preprint)

Bonaccorsi, A, Calvert J, and Joly, PB (2011) 'From protecting texts to protecting objects in biotechnology and software. A tale of changes of ontological assumptions in intellectual property protection' Economy and Society, 40 (4): 611-639

Calvert, J and Joly, PB (2011) 'How did the gene become a chemical compound? Shifting ontologies of the gene and the patenting of DNA' Social Science Information, 50 (2): 157-177

Calvert, J (2010) 'Systems biology, interdisciplinarity and disciplinary identity' in Parker, J.N., Vermeulen, N & Penders, B. (eds.) Collaboration in the New Life Sciences Aldershot: Ashgate

Calvert, J (2010) 'Synthetic biology: constructing nature?' Sociological Review, 58 (s1): 95-112

Haddow, G, Bruce, A, Calvert, J, Harmon, SHE and Marsden, W (2010) 'Not "human" enough to be human but not "animal" enough to be animal - the case of the HFEA, cybrids and xenotransplantation in the UK', New Genetics and Society, 29 (1): 3-17

Calvert, J and Fujimura, J (2009) 'Calculating life? A sociological perspective on systems biology' EMBO reports, 10 (S1): S46-S49

Calvert, J and Martin, P (2009) 'The role of social scientists in synthetic biology' EMBO reports, 10 (3): 201-204

Calvert, J (2008) 'The commodification of emergence: systems biology, synthetic biology and intellectual property' BioSocieties, Vol. 3, Issue 4, pp.385-400

O'Malley, M, Powell, A, Davies, J and Calvert, J (2008) 'Knowledge-making distinctions in synthetic biology' BioEssays, Vol. 30 No.1 pp.57-65

Bostanci, A and Calvert, J (2008) 'Invisible genomes: the genomics revolution and patenting practice' Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Vol. 39, pp.109-119

Calvert, J (2007) 'Patenting genomic objects: genes, genomes, function and information' Science as Culture, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp.207-223

Powel, A, O'Malley, M, Müller-Wille, S, Calvert, J and Dupré, J (2007) 'Disciplinary Baptisms: A comparison of the naming stories of genetics, molecular biology, genomics and systems biology' History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, Vol. 29, pp.5-32

O'Malley, MA, Calvert, J, and Dupre J (2007) 'The study of socioethical issues in systems biology' American Journal of Bioethics, Vol.7 No.4 pp.67-78

Calvert, J (2007) Goodbye blue skies? The concept of 'basic research' and its role in a changing funding environment Chinese translation, Wuhan University of Technology Publishing House: Wuhan, China

Calvert, J (2006) 'What's special about basic research?' Science, Technology and Human Values, Vol.31, Issue 2, pp.199-220

O'Malley, M, Bostanci, A and Calvert, J (2005) 'Whole Genome Patenting' Nature Reviews Genetics, Vol.6, Issue 6, pp.502-506

Hauskeller, C and Calvert, J (2004) ‘The meanings of genomics’ Guest editorial for special edition of New Genetics and Society Vol.23, No.3, pp.251-254

Calvert, J (2004) 'Genomic patenting and the utility requirement' New Genetics and Society, Vol.23, Issue3, pp.301-312

Calvert, J and Senker, J (2004) 'Biotechnology innovation systems in two small countries: a comparison of Portugal and Ireland' Science and Public Policy, Vol.31, Issue 5, pp.359-370

Calvert, J (2004) 'The idea of 'basic research' in language and practice' Minerva, Vol.42, Issue 3, pp.251-268

Calvert, J and Patel, P (2003) 'University-Industry Research Collaborations in the UK: bibliometric trends' Science and Public Policy, Vol. 30, Issue 2, pp.85-96

Hinze, S, Calvert, J, Reiss, T, Senker, J, Patel, P (2003) 'International benchmarking of biotech research centres' Research Evaluation, Vol.12, Issue 2, pp.85-89

Calvert, J (2001) 'Is there a role for 'basic research' in Mode 2?' in VEST Swedish Journal for Science and Technology Studies, Vol. 13, Issues 3-4, pp.35-51

Calvert, J and Martin, B (2001) 'Science funding: Europe' in International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioural Sciences, Elsevier, Jasanoff, S (Section Editor, Science and Technology Studies), Smelser, NJ and Baltes, PB (Editors in chief), Vol. 20, pp.13676-80 

Selected invited presentations

‘Three forms of openness’ OpenPlant Forum, University of Cambridge, 28th-29th July 2015

‘Synthetic biology as a topic for the social sciences and humanities’ National University of Singapore-Edinburgh Synthetic Biology Symposium, Singapore, 4th May 2015

'What can STS learn from art and design?' Environmental Humanities Seminar, University of New South Wales, Australia, 12th December 2014

‘Biology in Society: Interdisciplinary, Ownership and Aesthetics’ EMBL PhD Symposium, Inspired by Biology: Exploring Nature's Toolbox, Heidelberg, Germany, 23rd-25th October 2014

‘Social Dimensions of Synthetic Biology’ São Paulo School of Advanced Sciences on Biotechnology, Biosocialities and the Governance of the Life Sciences, State University of Campinas, UNICAMP, Brazil, 11th-15th August 2014

Topics interested in supervising

I have enjoyed supervising postgraduate students from a range of different backgrounds including the social sciences, the biological sciences and philosophy. I'd be very happy to discuss potential research projects with prospective postgraduate students. Topics I'd be interested in supervising include (but are not limited to): the engineering of living things (including questions about design, evolution and 'life'); interdisciplinary collaborations (between scientists, engineers, social scientists and artists and designers); and STS and policy (particularly the governance of emerging technologies and the 'normative turn' in STS).

If you are interested in being supervised by Jane Calvert, please see the links below for more information:

PhD in Science and Technology Studies