Introduction to Synthetic Biology

BMME 490-030

Course Description – Spring 2016

This course provides an introduction to the principles and techniques of synthetic biology. It consists of a weekly lecture covering relevant background and theory as well as a lab providing hands-on learning of fundamental techniques. The course will culminate with students creating their own biological device.

Note: Due to high demand and the limited lab space available, this course is under controlled enrollment (permission of instructor).  I seek to have a mix of student backgrounds and years represented. The final roster will be worked out as registration continues and I will also maintain a waiting list. Please contact myself or Cheryl Simpson (cheris at if there are any issues with registering for the course or if you need to be on the waitlist.


Course Objectives & Topics


  • Explain basics concepts of systems and/or cellular biology
  • Critically evaluate and analyze problems at the interface of engineering and biology
  • Apply knowledge of math, science and engineering
  • Measurement and data interpretation skills from living systems
  • Develop problem/need identification skills
  • Gain scientific paper/journal paper writing skills
  • Build oral presentation/ power point presentation skills

Planned topics:

  • Reading and discussion of key synthetic biology papers
  • Discussion and review of iGEM and previous iGEM projects
  • Coverage of fundamental biological and engineering concepts principles
  • Hands-on experience with synthetic biology methodologies including bacterial cell culture, transformation, BioBrick assembly, PCR, mimipreps, fluorescence imaging
  • Basic mathematical modeling of biological systems
  • Problem identification and system design
  • Ethics and societal impacts

About Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology is a new engineering discipline with the goal of constructing novel biological systems with practical and useful applications. Potential applications are in numerous fields including sensors, diagnostics, bioenergy/biofuels, programmable biomaterials, environmental testing and many others. Synthetic biology is different from historical genetic engineering approaches in that an engineering methodology is a central component of the discipline as is the creation and use of standardized, well-characterized interchangeable parts. While oriented towards the creation of biological devices, the advancement of the field will provide significant insight into the core principles and functions of life.

Spring 2016 Details

Course Number: BMME 490-030 (3 credit hours)

Location: Lecture: TBD, Lab: TBD in Taylor Hall

Lecture: Tue, 3:30-4:45

Lab (2 sections):

  • Wed, 12:20-2:20 (Lab 1 – Section 403 (#15591))
  • Wed, 2:30-4:30 (Lab 2 – Section 404 (#15592))

Grading: Mix of homework assignments, exams, lab notebook and a final project with presentation.

Pre/Corequisites: Pre – BIOL 101 & CHEM 101; Co – BIOL 202 & CHEM 102

Textbook: Synthetic Biology: A lab manual by Liljieruhm, Gulberg and Forster (probably best buy is on Amazon)

Links to Related Information

The UNC iGEM Team

Independent of this course, we have a UNC-based iGEM team. If there is no room in the course, but you are still interested in designing and building useful biological systems, consider joining the team. If interested, send an email to UNC dot igem at gmail dot com. Other ways of learning more will be provided soon.