Synthetic Biology
July 24 - August 6, 2018
Application Deadline: April 15, 2018

Instructors (see full profiles here):

James Chappell, Rice University
John Dueber, University of California Berkeley
Elisa Franco, University of California Riverside
Karmella Haynes, Arizona State University

See the roll of honor  - who's taken the course in the past

Synthetic biology is a discipline in which living organisms are genetically programmed to carry out desired functions in a reliable manner. The field takes inspiration from our ever-expanding ability to measure and manipulate biological systems, and also from the philosophical reflections of Schrodinger and Feynman -- specifically that physical laws can be used to describe and rationally engineer biology to accomplish useful goals. Cells are the world’s most sophisticated chemists, and their ability to adapt to changing environments offers enormous potential for solving modern engineering challenges. Nonetheless, biological systems are noisy, massively interconnected, and non-linear, and they have not evolved to be easily engineered. The grand challenge of synthetic biology is to reconcile the desire for a predictable, formalized biological design process with the inherent ‘squishiness’ of biology.

This course focuses on how the complexity of biological systems can be combined with traditional engineering approaches to result in new design principles for synthetic biology. The centerpiece of the course is an immersive laboratory experience in which students work in teams to learn the practical and theoretical underpinnings of synthetic biology research. Broadly, the course explores how cellular regulation (transcriptional, translational, post-translational, and epigenetic) can be used to engineer cells that accomplish well-defined goals. Laboratory modules cover the following areas: CRISPR technologies for genome editing and gene regulation; cell-free transcription and translation systems to characterize genetic circuits and RNA regulators; modeling gene expression using ordinary differential equations; and, high-throughput DNA assembly techniques and genetic design principles.

Students will first learn essential synthetic biology techniques in a four-day ‘bootcamp’ at the beginning of the course. Following the bootcamp, they will rotate through research projects in select areas. Students will also interact closely with a panel of internationally recognized speakers who will collectively provide a broad overview of synthetic biology applications, including renewable chemical production and therapeutics, state-of-the-art techniques, case studies in human practices, and socially responsible innovation.

2018 Invited Lecturers:

Frances Arnold, California Institute of Technology
Jose Avalos,
Princeton University
Matthew Bennett,
Rice University
Yvonne Chen,
University of California Los Angeles
Tara L. Deans,
University of Utah
Charles Gersbach,
Duke University
David Kong,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 
Tae Seok Moon,
Washington University Saint Louis
Michelle O'Malley,
University of California Santa Barbara

Application instructions: Synthetic biology is an inherently interdisciplinary field. We encourage students of all backgrounds to apply, from experimental biology to very theoretical fields. At the end of your personal statement/essay, please rank your interest in the following major available laboratory modules (from highest to lowest interest): (1) Chromatin Engineering: Synthetic Regulators that 'Decode' Histones, (2) In vivo Evolution: Cas9-Mediated Mutagenesis and Selection, (3) Mathematical Modeling: Computational Biology Using Ordinary Differential Equations, (4) TX-TL Breadboarding: RNA-based Logic Gates


Cost: $3,885

This tuition rate is all-inclusive and includes housing and food. Additional financial aid is available; to indicate financial need, please submit a short stipend request as part of your application materials. This course is supported with funds provided by: National Institute of General Medical Sciences, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Helmsley Charitable Trust, and National Science Foundation.

No fees are due until you have completed the full application process and are accepted into the course. Students accepted into the course should plan to arrive by early evening on July 23 and plan to depart after lunch on August 6.

Before applying, ensure you have 1) Personal statement/essay; 2) Letter(s) of recommendation; 3) Curriculum vitae/resume (optional); 4) Financial aid request (optional). More details


If you are not ready to fully apply but wish to express interest in applying, receive a reminder two weeks prior to the deadline, and tell us about your financial aid requirements, click below: