CSHL Synthetic Bio 1.0 – Day 1, Assemble All the Things!

Written by: Karmella Haynes

Today marks the moment that the still-burgeoning field of synthetic biology joins the ranks of paradigm-shifting projects that have been born from sandbox explorations at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. Sixteen students from around the world arrived on campus for two weeks of intensive laboratory work, from sun-up to midnight, plus daily lectures from leaders in the field. The course’s very first class ranges from advanced PhD students to postdocs to young faculty.

Last night’s wine and cheese reception revealed many interesting perspectives on synthetic biology. I heard the students express everything from intimidation to wonderment. Some were in the midst of a genetic engineering project at their home lab, and came here to seek out the benefits synthetic biology-style rational design. Others had not picked up a pipette in years, if at all. But everyone was very sharp and their backgrounds were diverse (academia, industry, math, physics, and biology), which is sure to result in some very exciting and creative collaborations.

Almost as a fanfare style introduction to the slickness of popular synthetic biology methods, our team of instructors Dave Savage and his TA Dana Nadler hit the ground running with a same-day, single-pot, DNA assembly lab exercise (Golden Gate Assembly). Hopefully we’ll see transformed colonies tomorrow. 0% success would be pretty anticlimactic.

Our schedule includes a bevvy of seminars from leaders in Synthetic Biology. Today’s fantastic presentation from Richard Murray (Cal Tech) on the cell-free Transcription-Translation (TXTL) system included a sharp complaint about how terrible evolution is (for bioengineering)…in a conference room adjacent to James Watson‘s office.

We hope that this course becomes a permanent part of the Cold Spring Harbor tradition of short courses that run each summer.


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