Foundations of Synthetic Biology

Module aims

This module will enable students to understand the principles of genetic engineering, synthetic biology and the design of biological machines. This includes the modelling of the biological system and the concepts and principles of synthetic biology.

Learning outcomes

Molecular biology DNA structure and Function Principles of biological synthesis Modelling simple biological devices and systems Understand the ethical implications of synthetic biology How to assemble DNA parts using BioBrick and alternative methods Understand the parts, devices and systems paradigm of synthetic biology Know some examples of synthetic biology applications Understand how to program pattern formation Understand the challenges of using biology in biosensing Have knowledge of genome engineering Select appropriate modelling tools Combine methods and concepts into new ideas Work on a group project with a mixed-background team Data analysis of lab work Competent wet-lab skills working with E.coli Use of Cell Designer software Give a PowerPoint presentation Design a poster Transferable Skills Work as a team Analyse class data using a spreadsheet Give a presentation of a project Write a group report Time-manage a group practical Take part in peer review

Module syllabus

This lecture course is taught jointly between Biochemistry and Bioengineering. For bioengineers, the course begins with a 6 hour assessed computer-lab practical and 2 hours of prelim lectures. Then students from both Departments are taught jointly with 13 lectures, a 2 hour workshop and a two-week mini-iGEM project. The bioengineering syllabus is: 1. Computer Practical: Modelling of a biological system - simplification and abstraction; choice of models; choice of modelling tools differential equations and graphical representations; Analysis, data representation. 2. Lectures: The concepts and principles of synthetic biology. Parts, Devices and Systems. DNA Assembly for synthetic biology. Transcriptional control in biological systems; examples of biological systems; systems analysis of biological systems. The biological system will then be analysed from a system perspective to understand how the components interact to give the observed biological behaviour. Examples of synthetic biology projects from iGEM and from publications. Class about the ethics of synthetic biology 3. Mini-iGEM. A two week team exercise with presentation, peer-review and final project poster. Making use of 'biobrick' synthetic biology, computer modelling, ethics and experimental design. Demonstration of modelling on laptop next to poster.


BE1-HMCP Molecules, Cells and Processes (all) BE1-HWLS Wet-lab skills 1 (Biomedical Engineers) BE2-HWLS Wet-lab skills 2 (Biomedical Engineers) BE2-HMCP2 (Biomolecular Engineers) BE2-HMBL2 (Biomolecular Engineers) BE3-HMIB Modelling in biology The students should be able to model genetic expression systems as taught in BE3-HMIB Modelling in biology

Teaching methods

Lectures: 11 hours
Labs: 20 hours
Study groups: 4 hours


●  Written exam: Foundations for Synthetic Biology; 67%% weighting
    Rubrics: 67% of the course assessment will be an 2hr examination with three mandatory questions - each question being a structured questions based on the material taught in the course and relevant problem solving
    No type of previous exam answers or solutions will be available

●  Written report: Experimental lab report; 33% weighting; Each student will write-up a structured report of the lab work

Feedback : For practical lab: Oral feedback during labs and associated study groups. Lab reports returned with comments within two weeks.

Module leaders

Professor Tom Ellis