"The alchemist’s rejected dream of creating a homunculus in a test tube has now been translated with the sober chemist’s dream of creating, not a little man, but at least a virus… perhaps eventually a bacterium. [...] What an audaciously stultifying proposal! One would hardly guess from this project that life already exists and has penetrated every nook and corner of this planet". These harsh words against the ambition of "creating life" were written by Lewis Mumford in 1970. Here, I use Mumford's arguments as starters to stir up debate on synthetic biology and discuss its ambitions.

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