Synthetic biology: engineering life for new social and medical challenges

The Project

The main objective of this course is to introduce students into synthetic biology and more specifically in the construction of genetic devices. These genetic devices allow modifying the behaviour of living cells to perform certain functions that they do not do naturally. In other words, students will learn about cell reprogramming. To achieve this goal this project is organized in two blocks.

Block 1: Introduction to synthetic biology

  1. Basis of synthetic biology
  2. Introduction to the design of genetic devices
  3. Computational simulation of designed devices
  4. Introduction to basic safety standards in the laboratory
  5. Introduction to experimental DNA modification techniques
    1. Biobricks cloning
    2. DNA transformation
    3. Cell cultures
    4. Electrophoresis
  6. Scientific communication.
    1. Scientific journals and bibliography search
    2. Scientific presentations
    3. Scientific posters
  7. Introduction to the international iGEM competition

Block 2: Practical Project “Construction of a cellular biosensor”

The goal is to develop a cellular device able to produce a fluorescent protein in response to external signals. To achieve this goal, students have to:

  1. Design a genetic system
  2. Perform computational simulations
  3. Experimental construction in E. Coli bacteria
  4. Experimental characterization



This course will have different types of sessions:

Theoretical sessions where the basic concepts of the course are presented. These sessions will take place in classrooms.

Computational sessions where students will learn to use the CellDesigner software package for simulating genetic devices. These sessions will take place in the computer rooms.

Experimental sessions in which students will put into practice the theoretical concepts acquired. These sessions will take place in the laboratory.


Practical work

Small work groups will be organized to carry out the experimental work in the laboratory. At the end of the course, each group must prepare a scientific poster with their results. Later, these posters will be presented to the rest of the students and the results will be discussed.

An important aspect is the monitoring of students to assess their degree of achievement, which will be carried out continuously throughout all sessions.

Matching profiles

This course is addressed to students with:

  1. High curiosity and ability to work in a multidisciplinary project.
  2. Ability to work in groups.
  3. Basic knowledge of computer sciences, mathematics and biology.
  4. Creativity.
  5. High motivation by both scientific and engineering issues.
Learning objectives

General Learning Objectives:

  1. Strengthen teamwork
  2. Develop communication and dissemination capabilities
  3. Learn to work in a multidisciplinary field where engineering, mathematics and computer science are combined with biology
  4. Promote patience and perseverance at work

Specific Learning Objectives:

  1. Design of genetic devices
  2. Basic laboratory safety standards
  3. Handling of basic laboratory material
  4. Computational simulation methods
  5. Genetic manipulation techniques
  6. Preparation of posters and scientific presentations
Required materials


Coordinator of the project
Javier Macía

Javier Macía

  • Associate professor at Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  • Coordinator the Biomedical engineering degree.
  • Head of the Synthetic Biology for Biomedical Applications Lab.
  • Coordinator of the Systems Bioengineering Research Program.
  • Co-funder of  BIOM, a new biotechnological-based company.
Associated researchers

Guillermo Nevot

  • PhD Student in the Translational Synthetic Biology Group at UPF
  • B. Sc. in Biotecnology at Universidad de Zaragoza and M. Sc. in Systems and Synthetic Biology at the Centre for Research and Interdisciplinarity (CRI) in Paris
  • Best Student Prize from Universidad de Zaragoza for “his values and experience”.
  • My research is focused in engineering skin bacteria to develop new biomedical applications for treatment and diagnosis
  • Interested in outreach, I have volunteered in schools to talk about Synthetic Biology and wrote articles for science communication magazines
The center

The Department of Experimental and Health Sciences (DCEXS) of Pompeu Fabra University combines the creation and transfer of knowledge through the seamless integration of research and teaching. Innovation in education and research excellence are the cornerstones of our efforts.