Skip to main content


CSC8327 : An Introduction to Synthetic Biology

  • Offered for Year: 2023/24
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Tim Rudge
  • Owning School: Computing
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 1 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 5.0
European Credit Transfer System


To familiarise students with the data that arises from studies in molecular biology.
To describe the application of engineering principles to the engineering of biological systems.
To educate students about the different stages of the synthetic biology life cycle.
To introduce and demonstrate the basic theory underlying the concepts and techniques of synthetic biology.

Synthetic biology is the application of engineering principles to the design and implementation of biological systems. Synthetic biology is paradigm shift in biology allowing biological systems to be built at a genome scale from parts derived from a diverse range of organisms or even completely synthetic devices. The field has potential applications in areas as diverse as biotechnology, bioremediation, agriculture and medicine. Computational design approaches are required because these systems are complex, stochastic and nonlinear.

This module provides an introductory understanding of the basic theory behind synthetic biology and experience in practically applying that theory. The module introduces basic concepts of the application of the synthetic biology design, build, test, learn (DBTL) cycle to the students with a strong emphasis on both computation and the interplay with practical aspects of engineering biological systems.

It introduces a number of many different tools and their usage, and touches on analysis algorithms behind some of them, focussing on the practical aspects of design.

Outline Of Syllabus

Basic concepts of molecular biology: genomes, transcriptomes, proteomes.
Basic and advanced techniques in genetic engineering.
Engineering biological systems.
Ethical, legal and social implications of synthetic biology.
An introduction to the synthetic biology life cycle:

- Systems requirements, specification
- Computational design
- Strategies for part, device, system and genome implementation.
- Strategies for part, device and system characterisation.
- Learning strategies for iterative design

Applications of synthetic biology.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture121:0012:00PIP lectures
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical33:009:00PIP practicals
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading122:0024:00lecture follow up
Guided Independent StudyProject work121:0012:00coursework
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery31:003:00To support queries about lecture material or practicals (PIP)
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study371:0037:00Background reading
Guided Independent StudyOnline Discussion31:003:00Tutorial feedback to support summative assessment online
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will be used to introduce the learning material and for demonstrating the key concepts by example. Students are expected to follow-up lectures within a few days by re-reading and annotating lecture notes to aid deep learning.

Tutorials will be used to emphasise the learning material and its application to the solution of problems and exercises set as coursework, during which students will analyse problems as individuals and in teams.

This is a very practical subject, and it is important that the learning materials are supported by hands-on opportunities provided by practical classes. Students are expected to spend time on coursework outside timetabled practicals.

Students aiming for 1st class are expected to widen their knowledge beyond the content of lecture notes through background reading.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Practical/lab report1M100Coursework 2: Summative assessment. A practical report on a synthetic biology computational design exercise. Max 2,000 words.
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Practical/lab report1MCoursework 1: Compulsory (pass/fail) formative assessment. Feedback on the design for a synthetic biology system. 500 words max.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The summative coursework 1 will assess the students’ ability to apply theory in a practical setting through the design of a synthetic biological system.

Reading Lists