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Synthetic Biology ERC

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Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC)  (University of California-Berkeley)

Research Focus & Anticipated Benefits

The goal of the Synthetic Biology ERC (SynBERC) research program is to develop the foundational understanding and technologies that will allow engineers to routinely build large numbers of useful biological systems from standard interchangeable parts.

The specific aims are:

  • to develop a conceptual framework for designing small biological components (parts) that can be assembled into devices that will perform a well-characterized function under specified conditions
  • to develop a small number of chassis (assembly substrate and power supply) to host the engineered devices and to assemble several devices as “systems” that accomplish a larger objective or goal (testbeds),
  • to develop a set of standards for the interactions of the parts and devices so that the devices can be built more readily and reproducibly (enabling composition),
  • to offer the parts, devices, and chassis as open source to other researchers and companies involved in SynBERC, and
  • to link these engineering goals within a comprehensive human practices framework.
In addition to the research thrusts and testbeds highlighted above, SynBERC has developed a core of cross-cutting research that provides foundational tools and technologies needed to advance synthetic biology internally and externally. Cross-cutting projects currently include automated DNA construction, models and design, safety and security, and registries and repositories.


Education & Outreach


Education, training, and outreach are high priorities for SynBERC investigators, who have a strong commitment to young scientists at the high school, undergraduate and graduate level. SynBERC researchers have developed a number of educational programs targeted to high school, undergraduate and graduate level students.

SynBERC researchers have developed dozens of new synthetic biology-related courses or course modules at the graduate and undergraduate level.  Other activities include:

  • The International Genetically Engineered Competition, an annual design competition that teaches mostly undergraduate teams of students how to apply the physics of synthetic biology to design and execute a novel biological system over teh course of a summer.
  • Undergraduate Research Experiences (REU): Mentored summer research internships for undergraduates in the labs of SynBERC faculty.
  • Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology (iCLEM): An 8-week paid summer internship program for traditionally underserved high school sophomores and juniors in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Research Experiences for Teachers (RET): SynBERC provides opportunities for teachers to engage in research and curriculum development.
  • Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery (SEED) Academy at MIT: An academic enrichment and career exploration program for public high school students from Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. SynBERC students and faculty developed and taught a synthetic biology course module for SEED high school seniors.
  • An online teaching resource that features short animations exploring and explaining fundamental synthetic biology content to a wide audience of learners, including high school teachers and students.

Students are actively engaged in all aspects of the Center's educational activities. They organize working groups, host inter-institutional student exchanges, develop curriculum modules, teach courses, and sponsor science talks. Graduate students at each of SynBERC's campuses are represented on the SynBERC Student Leadership Council. Through their work with the council, the students share the results of their research and are involved in the day-to-day workings of the center.


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  • Image from a National Science Foundation-funded ERC.
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