Day 1 – Rapid training, ice-breaking, and bio-breadboard making

Written by: Karmella Haynes.

CSH Syn Bio 2014 began at 8:30 am sharp today. Sixteen students met in lab 329 in Beckman Hall to start their week-1 crash course in hands-on synthetic biology. Our students will gain exposure to four very different areas in synthetic biology: cell-free in vitro systems, bacterial engineering, yeast metabolism, and mammalian cell genome editing. Rotating sub-groups of 5 or 6 students will work closely with one instructor and their TA to learn as much as they can about one full topic each day over the next four days.

At 4 pm we switched from lab work to an interactive session where every student and the TA’s gave lightning talks about their current work and interests to break the ice. Our students’ backgrounds are even more diverse than our course content…a perfect recipe for creative ideas.

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Richard Murray kicked off our seminar series with an engineer’s perspectives and aspirations for bioengineering. His self-driving-car DARPA project analogy was a great motivator for getting biologists, and those interested in biology, to think about the challenges of making biology easier, and possible, to engineer in a reliable manner. His bioengineering work involves txtl (cell-free transcription translation), which is used to build “biomolecular breadboards” that enable fast, simple characterization of gene circuits. The challenge that lies ahead is to take the lessons learned from this model system and translating them into living, dividing cells.

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Julius Lucks, one of the 2014 instructors, presented a follow-up technical lecture on how to use txtl to build rationally designed systems of network modules, which is featured int he CSH Syn Bio lab activities. In addition to summarizing applied molecular biology, his slides payed homage to the centrality of RNA in information storage and structure-based biochemical function.

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