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Tracking the emergence of synthetic biology


  • Philip Shapira

    () (University of Manchester
    Georgia Institute of Technology
    University of Manchester)

  • Seokbeom Kwon

    (Georgia Institute of Technology
    Georgia Institute of Technology)

  • Jan Youtie

    (Georgia Institute of Technology)


Synthetic biology is an emerging domain that combines biological and engineering concepts and which has seen rapid growth in research, innovation, and policy interest in recent years. This paper contributes to efforts to delineate this emerging domain by presenting a newly constructed bibliometric definition of synthetic biology. Our approach is dimensioned from a core set of papers in synthetic biology, using procedures to obtain benchmark synthetic biology publication records, extract keywords from these benchmark records, and refine the keywords, supplemented with articles published in dedicated synthetic biology journals. We compare our search strategy with other recent bibliometric approaches to define synthetic biology, using a common source of publication data for the period from 2000 to 2015. The paper details the rapid growth and international spread of research in synthetic biology in recent years, demonstrates that diverse research disciplines are contributing to the multidisciplinary development of synthetic biology research, and visualizes this by profiling synthetic biology research on the map of science. We further show the roles of a relatively concentrated set of research sponsors in funding the growth and trajectories of synthetic biology. In addition to discussing these analyses, the paper notes limitations and suggests lines for further work.

Suggested Citation

  • Philip Shapira & Seokbeom Kwon & Jan Youtie, 2017. "Tracking the emergence of synthetic biology," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 112(3), pages 1439-1469, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:scient:v:112:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11192-017-2452-5
    DOI: 10.1007/s11192-017-2452-5

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Kwon, Seokbeom & Liu, Xiaoyu & Porter, Alan L. & Youtie, Jan, 2019. "Research addressing emerging technological ideas has greater scientific impact," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 48(9), pages 1-1.
    2. Scott L. Greer & Benjamin Trump, 2019. "Regulation and regime: the comparative politics of adaptive regulation in synthetic biology," Policy Sciences, Springer;Society of Policy Sciences, vol. 52(4), pages 505-524, December.
    3. Ribeiro, Barbara & Shapira, Philip, 2019. "Anticipating governance challenges in synthetic biology: Insights from biosynthetic menthol," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 311-320.
    4. Porter, Alan L. & Chiavetta, Denise & Newman, Nils C., 2020. "Measuring tech emergence: A contest," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 159(C).
    5. Ribeiro, Barbara & Shapira, Philip, 2020. "Private and public values of innovation: A patent analysis of synthetic biology," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 49(1).
    6. Juliana A. Ivar do Sul & Alexander S. Tagg & Matthias Labrenz, 2018. "Exploring the common denominator between microplastics and microbiology: a scientometric approach," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 117(3), pages 2145-2157, December.

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    More about this item


    Emerging technology; Synthetic biology; Bibliometric analysis; Search strategy; Map of science; Research sponsors;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives


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