Synthetic biology, water industry and the performance of an innovation barrier

S. Molyneux-Hodgson, A. S. Balmer

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This paper analyses the performance of a research programme that sought to address issues of innovation in the water industry through the application of synthetic biology approaches to water problems. We use this analysis to re-imagine the problem of innovation in the UK water sector. Using textual, observational and interview data, we examine how a series of discourses have, over time, become firmly connected in the context of water innovation. Discourses include: conceptualisation of public actors as consumers who are ignorant of the complexities of water and its true value; and the primacy of market-based mechanisms to produce innovation. We show how these discourses shaped the expectations of academic and industry actors as they sought to use synthetic biology as a solution to industrial problems. Expecting innovation barriers of a certain form, these actors helped to construct the very thing they sought to dismantle.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)507-519
Number of pages12
JournalScience and Public Policy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • synthetic biology
  • water industry
  • innovation
  • water governance
  • water consumer
  • sociology of expectations
  • performativity
  • sociology of science


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