Innovating research, policy and education in synthetic and systems biology


New insights into gene expression control

The characteristics of any cell (phenotype) in a genetically identical population is determined by the level of expression of individual genes. Ramon Grima and colleagues at SynthSys have developed a general modelling framework for quantifying switching between a number of different phenotypes due to noise at the transcriptional,  translational, post-transcriptional and post-translational levels. The results shed light on how cells encode decisions, how they retain memory of their environment, as well as postulating new mechanisms for generating and controlling intracellular oscillations. The paper was published in PNAS.

Sustainability Silver Award

Congratulations to SynthSys Lab (2.18) for achieving the Edinburgh Sustainability Silver Award. SynthSys members Eliane Salvo-Chirnside and Katalin Kis attended the award ceremony at Teviot Place on 22nd April 2014.

Newly published book “Synthetic aesthetics”

SynthSys members, Dr Jane Calvert and Dr Pablo Schyfter (both social scientists) and Professor Alistair Elfick (an engineer) are co-authors of a newly published book “Synthetic aesthetics” published by the MIT Press and launched today in London at an event at the V&A.

In this book, synthetic biologists, artists, designers, and social scientists investigate synthetic biology and design. After chapters that introduce the science and set the terms of the discussion, the book follows six boundary-crossing collaborations between artists and designers and synthetic biologists from around the world, helping us understand what it might mean to ‘design nature.’ These collaborations have resulted in biological computers that calculate form; speculative packaging that builds its own contents; algae that feeds on circuit boards; and a sampling of human cheeses. They raise questions about the scientific process, our relationship to designed matter, unintended consequences and the ownership of life.

The other co-authors include Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg is a London-based artist, designer, and writer and Drew Endy a bioengineer at Stanford University and President of the BioBricks Foundation.  

Copies of the book can be purchased via Amazon.

SynthSys wins £1.8M for Genome Foundry

SynthSys has been awarded up to £1.8M to build a “Genome Foundry” to pioneer developments in medicine and other key areas of research. The Edinburgh Genome Foundry will build and study DNA to inform the development of products with applications in health, agriculture and biofuels.

The Foundry’s researchers will seek to create and modify long strands of DNA – up to 1 mega base pairs – that can be used to equip cells or organisms with new or improved functions. This could lead to advances such as programming stem cells for use in personalised medicines, developing bacteria that can detect disease in the gut, or altering the DNA of biofuel crops to enable a higher yield.

SynthSys PI in world first

Edinburgh scientists have helped build a fully functioning yeast chromosome from scratch. An international team of scientists redesigned a chromosome found in brewer’s yeast using computer software, and rebuilt it by piecing together a series of short segments they made in the lab. Dr Patrick Yizhi Cai of SynthSys and a co-author on the paper says: Our Synthetic and Systems Biology Institute is really at the forefront of synthetic genomics, and we are glad to be part of this landmark paper. The synthetic structure was shown to function like an ordinary chromosome when it was transplanted into living yeast cells, which survived and grew as normal. The study marks the first time that scientists have rebuilt a chromosome from a class of complex organisms -known as eukaryotes - which includes animals, plants and humans. Researchers have previously recreated chromosomes found in bacteria and viruses.

The paper was published in Science. For full article go to

Second UK–Korea Workshop on Synthetic Biology

The Second UK–Korea Workshop on Synthetic Biology took place on the 20th of February 2014 in KAIST (the Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology) in Daejeon, South Korea.

Jamie Davies: Life Unfolding

Congratulations to Jamie Davies of SynthSys  whose book, ‘Life Unfolding: How the Human Body Creates Itself,’ was published on 27th Feb 2014 by Oxford University Press.

Jamie says, "This book is an attempt to explain, in a clear and accessible way, how complex human bodies build themselves from the relative simplicity of a fertilized egg. The emphasis is on a systems approach – on illustrating how appropriately arranged feedback can allow small, dumb units such as molecules or cells, which carry very limited information, to organize at a scale vastly larger than themselves.

European Congress on Biotechnology

Registration now open. Visit

The Volunteering website is also now open for applications.                   

Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre for Scotland

Just before Christmas last year, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) confirmed funding of £10m to seed the establishment of the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC).  This will form the basis of an expected £45m spend on research projects and skills development in Industrial Biotechnology aimed at bringing these technologies to the market while making a substantive impact on the Scottish economy.  IBioIC has 13 academic partners across Scotland including the University of Edinburgh and will be initially based at Strathclyde.

A launch event for IBioIC took place at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI) on Wednesday 5th February. Guest Speaker was John Swinney MSP (see photo), Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth. 

Yin Hoon Chew's newly published paper - Digital Arabidopsis plant!

 'Multiscale digital Arabidopsis predicts individual organ and whole-organism growth' has been newly published in Pnas.

Congratulations to Yin Hoon Chew & co-authors, including Karen Halliday and Andrew Millar.