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History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences - Vol. 35, no. 3 (2013)
Article

Michaela Th. Mayrhofer, About the New Significance and the Contingent Meaning of Biological Material and Data in Biobanks


Abstract

Since the end of the 1990s, the practice of biobanking – performed in and by actors called biobanks – has become a key practice for the life sciences and the biotechnologies, though the practice of biobanking is far from being something entirely new. Its significance, however, is indeed new, in the sense that the biological material and associated data collected in, and manipulated by, well-organised and often highly specialised facilities is transformed into an (epistemic) object with biovalue. In other words, the practice of biobanking signifies not only the collection, manipulation, and distribution of biological material and associated data in an organised manner involving various actors that govern or use the services of a biobank. Rather, it produces biobanks as sites of co-production of data-driven scientific knowledge. My paper draws on case studies of the history and practices of Généthon DNA and Cell Bank, the Biobank of Picardie, and the Tumour Bank of the Saint-Louis Hospital in a comparative manner. It presents biobanking as both a contingent practice and of an open, experimental character and concludes that it is transforming into a data-driven practice pursued in an industrialized manner.


Keywords

Biobank, biovalue, epistemic object


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