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CELS 2021 — A Report from the Trenches

Steve Laufmann
Image credit: Brian Gage.

The first-ever Conference on Engineering in Living Systems (CELS 2021) was held June 3-5, in Denton, Texas. CELS was organized by the Engineering Research Group (ERG) and sponsored by the Center for Science & Culture, Discovery Institute.

In this workshop-like setting, a core group of 60 biologists, engineers, medical practitioners, and researchers from related disciplines assembled for three days to explore ways to (1) apply engineering principles to better understand biological systems, (2) craft a design-based theoretical framework to explain and predict the behaviors of living systems, and (3) develop research programs to demonstrate the engineering principles at work in living systems.

Twenty-five different speakers presented a wide range of topics, including engineering topics like information design and processing, control systems, and the irreducibility of signaling systems; biological topics that included topoisomerases that untangle DNA strands, the life-sustaining functions of bacteriophage, and the fine-tuning of the human body; and foundational topics like the structure of theoretical frameworks and the architecture of living systems, from molecules to ecosystems.

With ample time set aside for both formal and informal discussion, participants generated dozens of ideas for new research projects that will explore critical questions about the ways that living systems work. These projects involve deep collaboration between engineers and biologists and are expected to yield many new insights — and to further consolidate the tenets of intelligent design.

This is the starting point for new and fascinating (and much-needed) work. There will be more to say about this in the future. Stay tuned.