Investment in biotechnology has yielded relatively disappointing results and illustrates the gap between the promise and reality of new science. This begs the question: Does research on ‘life’ bring different complexities and uncertainties that act as a barrier to the application of new biology in global health and agriculture? There has been high-quality research on the social and ethical impacts of new biology and on the economics of biotechnology but few systematic and integrated attempts to undertake interdisciplinary research and address these constraints. This paper provides an original empirical analysis of contemporary and future understandings of the bioeconomy using a co-evolutionary and interactive approach to examine the extent to which it may be different from other technological transformations. We focus on the Innogen Centre’s extensive research results on three important and contemporary themes: food and energy security, life science and healthcare translational medicine, and global health.