A half dozen or so years ago, Carl Woese and Nigel Goldenfeld characterized biology as the new condensed matter physics. More recently, Eugene Koonin advised “biology has to become the new condensed matter physics”. It’s an area of scientific research that is indeed ramping up, and not a moment too soon, after decades of puffery about a so-called selfish gene. But what exactly is meant by “the new condensed matter physics”? I decided to contact Syracuse University physicist Lisa Manning to help sort it all out in a conversation that follows.