This MRes programme aims to train students in the fast-growing area of Synthetic Biology, a discipline which takes the knowledge and understanding we now have of the individual parts of biological systems and uses them in a defined way to design and build novel artificial biological systems.

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Synthetic Biology MRes

Elliot Bocarro
Elliot Baroco, MRes Student 2016 (above)

"I’ve never come across any other course that requires you to be so creative, to make something new. It’s not just “write an assignment on…” or “do a presentation on…” but “go and make something novel.”

How to apply

Students are advised to apply as early as possible due to competition for places. Those applying for scholarship funding (particularly overseas applicants) should take note of application deadlines.

Who can apply?

The programme aims to attract students from a wide range of science backgrounds in both the physical, engineering, chemical and mathematical sciences as well as graduates from biology based science degrees and train them in this new field, enabling them to transfer these skills to further research, industry and teaching.

Application deadlines
29 July 2017 

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Why study this degree at UCL?

UCL is recognised as one of the world's best research environments within the field of biochemical engineering and synthetic biology as well as biological and biomedical science.

The Department of Biochemical Engineering is in a unique position to offer tuition, research opportunities in internationally recognised laboratories and an appreciation of the multidisciplinary nature of Synthetic Biology research.

Students on this new MRes programme undertake a major research project where topics can be chosen spanning the expertise in six departments across UCL.

Student / staff ratios › 51 staff including 31 postdocs › 49 taught students › 121 research students

Department: Biochemical Engineering

(Student / staff ratio correct as of current prospectus)


This is a list of titles of research projects available to students on the MRes Synthetic Biology programme in 2015/2016

  • Engineering the human microbiota: design and construction of robust therapeutic delivery devices
  • Direct cell reprogramming using microfluidic chips
  • Design of calcineurin variants containing unnatural amino acids to determine how the phosphatase is targeted during synaptic plasticity
  • Directed evolution of functional XNA molecules
  • Establishing a high-throughput tRNA charging assay
  • Properties of electron transfer in a spin labelled phage
  • 'Design and construction of rigid phage and viruses of different lengths and widths as molecular wires'
  • Making nanorings with toroidal currents from Ouroboros phage
  • Engineering Phaeodactylum for biocatalyst production
  • Design and use of de novo pathways for alkaloid biosynthesis
  • Design of an artificial signaling system
  • Repurposing a versatile genetic payload delivery system through refactoring studies
  • Expression of firefly luciferace in CHO cells to act as a reported for transcriptional activity of recombinant proteins
  • Engineering Synthetic Biology workflows with Antha-Lang
  • A DNA-based synthetic channel for the ligand-controlled transport across bilayers
  • Genome engineering to intensify productivity of a stable lentiviral ‘super-packaging’ cell line
  • Rewiring the Pichia pastoris genome to maximise industrial production of chiral amino alcohols
  • Combinatorial directed co-evolution of two enzymes in a novel pathway
  • Aminoacylases: the final step in a de novo pathway to antibiotics
  • Synthetic genes for modified Honey Bee silk
  • Designing and constructing phages for opto-electronic applications

The MRes in Synthetic Biology is composed of 4 parts; a major research project and 3 taught modules. The taught modules run from the end of September through to March with the research project beginning in January.  The choice of research project is made in November. These projects are offered from our own department and other groups spread across UCL which exemplifies the multidisciplinary nature of Synthetic Biology.

There are three taught course modules to the programme:

  • Synthetic Biology
  • The Scientific Literature
  • Bioprocess Research and Development

Synthetic Biology

This module is designed to introduce the major areas of Synthetic Biology through lectures, workshops, student group work, design projects, student presentations and essays.

Topics covered will include:

  • Genetic circuits – oscillators, AND, NAND, NOT, NOR gates, edge detectors.
  • Pathway Construction –  building metabolic pathways, modeling metabolic pathways
  • BioBricks, gene and genome design and synthesis
  • Chassis
  • Building novel entities using proteins and DNA
  • Vaccines
  • Structured devices -molecular machines
  • Ethical and legal aspects of Synthetic Biology including patents.

The Scientific Literature

A fundamental aspect of scientific research requires the ability to acquire information from original scientific papers, to analyse critically the content and quality of published scientific studies and to present and discuss the scientific literature with one’s peers. Teaching will consist of seminars and discussion sessions


The aims of this module are to provide a formal framework in which students will be able to develop their skills to an advanced research level, in reading and analysing the scientific literature, and in the presentation of such analysis.

Bioprocess Research and Development

This module shows how the principles of the RDF can be applied in bioprocess research and development either in academia or the international bioindustry. We are in the process of developing this module and will provide more details shortly.

MRres Research Project

This will be an 8 month, full-time laboratory project in an area of Synthetic Biology. The project will give intensive, hands-on experience of carrying out a synthetic biology research project embedded within major research groups at UCL.

  • The Departments offering projects include:
  • Biochemical Engineering
  • Structural & Molecular Biology
  • Cell & Development Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Computer Science
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Electronic & Electrical Engineering

All projects have two supervisors in complementary disciplines to ensure the cross-disciplinary nature of the projects.


Synthetic Biology is a fast growing area of research and will have a major economic and social impact on the global economy in the coming decades. The involvement of engineers, physical scientists, chemists and biologists can create designed cells, enzymes and biological modules that can be combined in a defined manner. These could be used to make complex metabolic pathways for pharmaceuticals, novel hybrid biosensors or novel routes to biofuels. A future integration of biological devices and hybrid devices as components in the electronic industry might lead to a whole new high value industry for structured biological entities.

Sahan Liyanagedera

Sahan Liyanagedera
What is your background?

I did my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science at the Peninsula School of Medicine and Dentistry at Plymouth University.

I became interested in Synthetic Biology following a module on the final year of my degree on DNA sequencing technology. I was more interested in taking a course that would give me experience in a laboratory than focus on an exam. I think I’ve learned more over the past few weeks working on my project than I did over my degree, especially due to having no experience in Molecular Biology techniques.

What is your research project?

My project aim is to link the Transaminsae and Transketolase Enzymes via a flexible linker and express this  fusion enzyme in the yeast Pichia Pastoris. If accomplished it will increase the efficiency of the two step pathway these enzymes are involved in that produces chiral amino alcohols; which is present in 40% of pharmaceuticals. 

What inspired you to become a biochemical engineer?

The ability to make things, to be creative. We all consume so much that it’s a great opportunity to actually create something.

What is your aim after graduation?

I am considering studying for a Phd in Biochemical Engineering and then studying medicine.

Page last modified on 24 may 16 10:19