MRes in Systems and Synthetic Biology
Dr James Murray
Dr Nikolai Windbichler
The MRes programme at the Institute of Systems and Synthetic Biology is organised in association with the EPSRC National Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation (CSynBI) and the Centre for Integrative Systems Biology and Bioinformatics (CISBIO). The course provides graduate students from the life sciences, engineering and physical sciences with a platform to overcome traditional barriers and collaboratively work on the ‘big problems’ and applications in synthetic and systems biology. Students gain intensive hands-on experience in a combination of experimental biology and modelling to understand, predict and redesign biological pathways. There is a link with the BIOS Centre at King’s College to facilitate the integration of this research with emerging ethical, legal and societal issues.
The taught elements of the course include introductory modules that cover essentials for both life and physical scientists, as well as modules on experimental systems biology, theoretical systems biology, synthetic biology, and advanced technologies. In addition to conventional lectures, the course requires active engagement by students through practicals, bench work, case studies, proposal writing, journal clubs, and an eight-month interdisciplinary research project. Only these activities will be marked; there will not be any formal written exams.
For further enrichment of the programme, close connections to industry and medicine will be provided through research projects from corresponding members of the Institute, as well as additional courses and workshops.
The programme is only offered as a full-time, one-year course and leads to the MRes degree. Students begin their lecture programme with compulsory core courses and practicals (modules 1–5) in the first term (October–December). In January students choose a topic for the eight-month long multidisciplinary, theoretical or experimental research project, supervised by at least two supervisors with different expertises.
Module 1a – Essentials for life scientists
This short lecture course introduces the basics of modelling and theoretical analysis, tailored towards students from the life sciences with limited theoretical background. In particular, lectures will cover differential equations and stochastic simulations.
Computer practical - the programming package Python will be introduced. Emphasis will be put on learning by examples. Students will learn how to read data files, analyse data, fit models to data, plot graphs, print to output files, and how to implement simple dynamical models. The latter will focus on ordinary differential equations.
Module 1a - Essentials for physical scientists
This short lecture/tutorial course will provide an introduction to life sciences, tailored towards students from the physical sciences. Lectures will discuss aspects of molecular biology and information flow within a biological context (DNA, RNA, proteins, transcription and translation). An overview of some experimental techniques (cloning, PCR) will be provided. In addition to the basic introduction to biology some insight will be provided into up-to-date DNA assembly methods which have applications in synthetic biology and will be of interest to students with life science backgrounds.
Hands-on experience in basic experimental techniques will be provided. The practical will explore new techniques in DNA assembly.
Module 2 – Experimental systems biology
Lectures will cover signalling and gene regulatory pathways and programmes in bacteria, mammalian cells and plants. Further topics of the lectures will include structural and functional genomics, and experimental techniques. Molecular medicine and genetic aspects of health and disease will be mentioned as well.
Module 3 – Theoretical systems biology
This lecture course will cover various modelling techniques. Specifically, lectures will cover dynamical systems, networks, deterministic differential equations, stochastic simulations, control theory, biophysics and cell mechanics, as well as statistical approaches, such as Bayesian inference.
Module 4 – Synthetic Biology
Topics of module range from biological building blocks and their characterization as, e.g. input/output relations, filters, amplifiers, robustness, as well as control theory, metabolic flux analysis, and genetic engineering. Additionally, this module will address social, ethical and policy issues, such as how is science linked to society, biology in the political context, social challenges, governance and regulation.
Module 5 – Advanced Technology & Biotechnology
This short lecture course will cover imaging and high-throughput technologies. Imagining techniques include various forms of fluorescence microscopy, and high-throughput techniques such as RNAi screens, microarrays, and microfluidic devices.
Workshops and Master Classes in transferable skills are organised by the Graduate School.
The minimum qualification for admission is normally at least an upper second class Honours degree in a physical, engineering, mathematical, or life/biomedical sciences-based subject from an UK academic institution, or an equivalent overseas qualification. A level mathematics will generally be required for entry.
How to Apply
Links with Employers
Imperial College works closely with employers and industry, including Industrial Advisory Panels to design Master’s courses which provide graduates with technical knowledge, expe rtise and transferable skills and to encourage students to take internships and placements. All Master’s courses are designed with employer needs in mind with some Master’s courses accredited by Professional, Statutory and Reg ulatory Bodies.