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1 A whole new world

Biology is a way of structuring matter at a molecular scale by slotting each atom into its needful place. It is a way of controlling flows of energy on every scale from that of the smallest living cell to that of the whole living planet. It is a way of growing order and surprise in a universe that in all other respects tends towards entropic stagnation. And it is a thicket of limits on how long lives can last and how much life can accomplish.

It is also a way of packing 3,500 excited young people into the Hynes Convention Centre in Boston, Massachusetts. More than 300 teams from 42 countries took part in the annual International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition there last October. By encouraging such teams to co-operate and compete in its Grand Jamboree, the iGEM foundation is hoping to create a framework for a synthetic-biology industry which combines molecular biology and engineering to achieve specific goals. Over the summer the young people went from an idea about something... see more