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Introduction to Systems and Synthetic Biology

SSB50806

About this course

The course provides an introduction to Systems and Synthetic Biology. Participants will learn how modelling and effective experimentation intertwine to understand interactions between genetic circuits and emergent biological phenomena.

The first part of the course is dedicated to Systems Biology, which aims to elucidate the biomolecular mechanisms underlying biological processes. Student will translate biological systems into mathematical models, and learn how best to analyse these models in relation to experimental data. For this, open source computer software will be used. Particular attention will be given to the description and mathematical characterization of metabolic networks and genetic circuits (notably synthetic toggle switches).

The second part of the course will introduce the principles of Synthetic Biology, including engineering principles, value-based and safe-by-design and a set of experimental tools that are used to translate systems knowledge into biological engineering. Fundamental tools include automated DNA writing technologies (i.e., DNA synthesis), standardization of modular DNA parts, and the theoretical analysis and construction of biochemical and genetic interaction circuits. Students will explore the literature and debate the use of synthetic biology applications in real-world scenarios.

By combining experimental and modelling skills, the course follows the Design-Build-Test-Learn cycle, a common framework used in Synthetic Biology and engineering disciplines. First, the students will design plasmid vectors containing a genetic toggle switch. Then, they will build these circuits by assembling standardized modular DNA parts. The circuits will be tested by measuring their output and the data will be compared against predictive model simulations. Finally, they will be asked to propose improved models or new experiments could be tested to improve our understanding of toggle switch dynamics.

Learning outcomes

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:

  • recognize the basic theoretical and applied concepts of Systems and Synthetic Biology;
  • assess a biological system in terms of mathematical models;
  • implement in Python a model describing a biological system;
  • perform an iterative computational(dry)-laboratory(wet) experiment based on a given genetic circuit;
  • employ standardized DNA assembly methods of synthetic biology to construct a genetic circuit;
  • debate use of synthetic biology applications;
  • understand the impact of synthetic biology in the near future, including its wider societal implications.

Teaching method and examination

The final mark is based on

  • written report on the computational/experimental work (accounting for 60% of the final grade)
  • exam with open questions and closed book (accounting for 40% of the final grade)
    To pass the course, the mark for the report and the exam should both be at least 5.50.

Required prior knowledge

Assumed Knowledge:
Basic knowledge in mathematics, biological sciences and laboratory techniques.

Link to more information

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