Skip to main content

Principles of Synthetic Biology


About This Course

The field of synthetic biology is quickly emerging as potentially one of the most important and profound ways by which we can understand and manipulate our physical world for desired purposes. While synthetic biology builds upon existing areas, such as genetic engineering, systems biology, and non-biological fields such as computer science, it is becoming evident that synthetic biology represents its own new engineering discipline. At the heart of synthetic biology is the aim to make the engineering of new biological function predictable, safe, and quick and to aid in creating biological applications of benefit to society. In this course the field and its natural scientific and engineering basis are introduced. Relevant topics in cellular and molecular biology and biophysics, dynamical and engineering systems, and design and operation of natural and synthetic circuits are covered in a concise manner that than allows the student to begin to design new biology-based systems.

The course objectives are:

  • to introduce the basics of synthetic biology, including quantitative cellular network characterization and modeling
  • to introduce the principles of discovery and genetic factoring of useful cellular activities into reusable functions for design
  • to inculcate the principles of biomolecular system design and diagnosis of designed systems
  • to illustrate cutting-edge applications in synthetic biology and to enhance skills in analyzing and designing synthetic biological applications


Since synthetic biology intersects many fields, a basic understanding of biology, differential equations and programming (MATLAB) will be helpful. Problem sets will feature short introductions to the relevant methods and knowledge in these fields and include pointers for further self-study. This course is meant to be accessible to advanced undergraduates and graduate students starting in the field.

Course Staff

Adam Arkin

Adam Arkin

Ron Weiss

Ron Weiss

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to buy a textbook?

No, though some textbooks may be helpful in understanding the ideas in the course:

  • H. Lodish, ed., Molecular Cell Biology, 4th Edition, New York: Scientific American Books, 2000.
  • Lewin, Genes VII, Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • G. G. Hammes, Thermodynamics and Kinetics for the Biological Sciences, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 2000.
  • V. Bloomfield, D. Crothers and I. Tinoco, Jr, Nucleic Acids, University Science Books, Sausalito, California, 2000.
  • J. Savage, Models of Computation: Exploring the Power of Computing, Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., Berkeley, California, 1998.