Innovating research, policy and education in synthetic and systems biology


BGI announces flagship project with Edinburgh Genome Foundry

BGI announces flagship project with Edinburgh Genome Foundry to synthesize the largest synthetic eukaryotic chromosome in the UK.

BGI, one of the world’s largest genomics research centers, and the University of Edinburgh, UK have signed a collaboration agreement to pursue an ambitious synthetic biology “construction” project worth up to £1Million. The two institutes will team up to synthesize synthetic yeast chromosome VII in the Edinburgh Genome Foundry, recently funded by the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and co-directed by Prof. Susan Rosser and Dr. Patrick Yizhi Cai.  

Edinburgh’s new Plant Science Network launched

A new network assembling expertise in food security, environmental sustainability and related policy across the Capital was launched at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on Wednesday 25th June 2014.

The network has been established in recognition that a diverse set of expertise is required to solve some of the most pressing challenges to our planet. EPS will become an active forum to stimulate interdisciplinary research collaborations, new training opportunities and to raise the profile of the world-leading plant and social science research ongoing in and around the Capital.  

Dr Karen Halliday of SynthSys, Director of the EPS, says, “Edinburgh has the largest concentration of plant scientists in Scotland, if not the UK, and we have a great opportunity to further raise the importance of our research to solving many of the world’s problems. We are passionate about plants and want to help ensure everyone understands their importance to our planet.”

DARPA funding for SynthSys PI

Professor Vincent Danos has been awarded a ~$2M grant from US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for a 42-month project "Executable Biology" within the DARPA Big Mechanism Programme.

SynthSys and Tianjin University to collaborate in synthetic and systems biology

June 18th, 2014  The University of Edinburgh and Tianjin University today signed a memorandum of understanding outlining their intention to establish research and teaching collaborations in mutually interesting areas of synthetic and systems biology. 


Faculty members in the National Key Laboratory for Systems Bioengineering (Ministry of Education, China) and the Centre for Synthetic Biology (both located in the University of Tianjin) will actively participate in the academic exchanges and research collaborations with the members of the Centre for Synthetic and Systems Biology (SynthSys), School of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. They are keen to identify opportunities for exchanges of personnel and joint research and development with an emphasis on systems and synthetic biology, engineering microorganisms and microbial consortia, genomics engineering, in vitro synthetic biology, and their applications in the production of chemicals, nutraceuticals and drugs, biomedicine, energy and the environment.

OpenPlant ERASynBio Summer School

Introduction to Synthetic Biology in plant systems

14th - 20th September 2014, John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK

The OpenPlant consortia (John Innes Centre and University of Cambridge) and Synthetic Biology ERA-NET (ERASynBio) are looking for PhD students and early career postdoctoral researchers to attend an advanced summer school on synthetic biology in complex systems.

Training will be provided in: DNA assembly, genome editing, metabolic engineering, transformation, new plant systems, genomic resources, software modelling, instrumentation, biotechnology and social impact.

Training, travel and subsistence costs will be paid for by ERASynBio.

Details of speaker, mentors and the application process will to be announced soon shortly on the websites of ERASynBio ( and OpenPlant (

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