Changes in the biosciences and their relations to society over the last decades provide a unique opportunity to examine whether or not such changes leave traces in the language we use to talk about them. In this article we examine metaphors used in English-speaking press coverage to conceptualize a new type of (interdisciplinary) bioscience: synthetic biology. Findings show that three central metaphors were used between 2008 and May 2010. They exploit social and cultural knowledge about books, computers and engines and are linked to knowledge of three revolutions in science and society (the printing, information and industrial revolutions). These three central metaphors are connected to each other through the concepts of reading/writing, designing and mass production and they focus on science as a revolutionary process rather than on the end results or products of science. Overall, we observed the use of a complex bricolage of mixed metaphors and chains of metaphors that root synthetic biology in historical events and achievements, while at the same time extolling its promises for the future. © 2011 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.