There is much talk about data-driven and in silico biology, but how exactly does it work? This essay reflects on the relation of data practices to the biological things from which they are abstracted. Looking at concrete examples of computer use in biology, the essay asks: How are biological things turned into data? What organizes and limits the combination, querying, and re-use of data? And how does the work on data link back to the organismic or biological world? Considering the life cycle of data, the essay suggests that data remain linked to the biological material and the concrete context from which they are extracted and to which they always refer back. Consequently, the transition to data science is never complete. This essay is part of a special issue entitled Histories of Data and the Database edited by Soraya de Chadarevian and Theodore M. Porter.

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