Over the past two decades, biological knowledge has grown at an unprecedented rate, giving rise to new disciplines such as systems biology, testimony of the striking progress of modeling and quantitative methods across the field. During the same period, highly speculative ideas have matured, and entire conferences and journals are now devoted to them. Synthesizing artificial cells, simulating large-scale biological networks, storing and making intelligent use of an exponentially growing amount of data (e.g., microarrays), exploiting biological substrates for computation and control, and deploying bio-inspired engineering are all cutting-edge topics today.
ECAL '11 leveraged this remarkable development of biological modeling and extended the topics of Artificial Life to the fundamental properties of living organisms: their multiscale patternforming morphodynamics, their autopoiesis, robustness, capacity to self-repair, cognitive capacities, and co-adaptation at all levels, including ecological ones. Bringing together a large interdisciplinary community of biologists, computer scientists, physicists, and mathematicians, the conference gave them a moment to reflect on how traditional boundaries between disciplines have become blurred, and to revisit in depth what constitutes "life."