Los Alamos scientist Steen Rasmussen plans to one-up nature by cobbling together a brand-new creature that reproduces and evolves. Is he making a biotech marvel that will do our bidding, or a test-tube-size Frankenstein monster?
One morning last fall, a dozen or so government scientists shuffle into a small conference room on the sprawling grounds of Los Alamos National Laboratory to kick off an unusual research project. The room, tucked away in the basement of an old physics building known as SM-40, has paint-flaked cinderblock walls and a tangle of exposed plumbing overhead. The only decorative touch, a cheap potted floor plant, is slumped half-dead in the corner. Eventually a tall man with a sculpted Scandinavian jawline hurries in. Steen Rasmussen apologizes for running late.