Tracking the Emergence of Synthetic Biology

Philip Shapira, Seokbeom Kwon, Jan Youtie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 synthetic biology dedicated 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 visualize 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.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date1 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Emerging technology
  • Synthetic biology
  • Bibliometric analysis
  • Search strategies
  • Map of Science
  • Research sponsors

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Biotechnology
  • Manchester Institute of Biotechnology
  • Manchester Institute of Innovation Research


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