Foundations of Synthetic Biology

Module aims

The module aim is to teach the basic foundations for synthetic biology by learning how to engineer gene expression in E.coli. This will teach students to build DNA parts into programs that get cells to perfom basic tasks in sensing, logic and biosynthesis. Students who take this course will be able to take ADVANCED SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY in their 4th year - a joint-course with Life Science students focused on a mini-iGEM project.

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this module you will be able to:
  • Design simple biological devices and pathways 
  • Design and make DNA programs 
  • Manipulate E.coli and perform DNA assembly in a wet lab
  • Describe the principles of biological synthesis 
  • Explain the parts and modularity in synthetic biology
  • Critique examples of synthetic biology applications

Module syllabus

This course is designed to introduce the foundations for experimental synthetic biology to Biomolecular and Biomedical Engineers. It is focused on understanding how to design, build and test gene circuits and metabolic pathways in E.coli using genetic parts and modular DNA assembly. It consists of lectures designed to enable the students to understand how to build E.coli synthetic biology in the lab and how DNA design changes affect perform. Topics covered in lectures include DNA, Gene expression, genetic engineering and Engineering regulatory logic.


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

Module leaders

Professor Tom Ellis