Synthetic Biology for engineering plants

Synthetic Biology is an emerging field that employs engineering principles for constructing genetic systems. The approach is based on the use of well characterised and reusable components, and numerical models for the design of biological circuits.

We have constructed a series of tools for controlling gene misexpression and marking specific cells in growing plants. We are building a new generation of genetic circuits that incorporate intercellular communication, and could be used to generate self-organised behaviour at the cellular scale. These could be used to reprogram plant development and morphogenesis.
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Studentships in Cambridge
For information about synthetic biology research projects in the Haseloff Lab at the University of Cambridge, click here. The best place to find general information about postgraduate study at the University of Cambridge is the Graduate Admissions site. This includes customised links to potential funding sources for UK and international students.
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Lab publications
Find a list of published papers and patent applications from the lab compiled here. These can be downloaded directly as PDFs.
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Teaching materials
Updated and new reference materials, including lecture notes, slides and PDFs can be found for courses on Origins of Agriculture (NST PMS 1B), Plant Development (NST CDB 1B) and Synthetic Biology (NST PS 2), taught by Jim Haseloff at the University of Cambridge.
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Images of liverworts in the field
See photo galleries of plants from the Australian Bryophyte Workshop in the Flinders Ranges
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Microscopy image galleries
Navigate to the Imaging index page to find different galleries of microscopy images. These include a wide range of historic plant samples that have been collected at the Department of Plant Sciences in Cambridge, where conventional cytological stains are often highly fluorescent and reveal new features when imaged using modern multispectral confocal laser scanning microscopes.
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Cambridge-JIC iGEM2016 team creates Phytobrick library and tools for chloroplast engineering in Chlamydomonas
The team developed a library of new DNA parts for engineering of the plastid genome in the green alga Chlamydomonas, a single-cell model for plants. The DNA parts followed the new Phytobrick standard for plants. They also built transformation and culture devices to make this system more widely accessible. More details of the team and project can be found on their wiki site. The team was sponsored by OpenPlant, the Wellcome Trust - SEB - BBSRC consortium and Cambridge Consultants.
Cambridge Consultants are world-leading product developers and technology consultants are sponsoring the Cambridge-JIC iGEM2016 team. They see synthetic biology as a significant new technology with global impact and are now working in this area. For more information about Cambridge Consultant's work in synthetic biology see
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OpenPlant initiative in Plant Synthetic Biology
BBSRC and EPSRC have funded OpenPlant: a £13.5M research centre for plant synthetic biology, a joint venture between the University of Cambridge and the John Innes Centre and TSL, Norwich. This initiative promotes open technologies for engineering of plant systems, including development of new standards, techniques and simple chassis.
Click here for more details about the initiative at
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Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative
A strategic research initiative in Synthetic Biology has been established at the University of Cambridge. The website at provides a clearing house for information about synthetic biology research and activities in this field.
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Synthetic Biology Opportunities and Outreach in Cambridge
There are a number of open meetings like Cafe Synthetique, Science Makers and funding opportunities associated associated with the initiative - with a particular focus on building tools and interdisciplinary research across biology, engineering, computing, physical sciences and the humanities. For a directory and information about events in Cambridge, see:
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Biomakespace in Cambridge
Join a group of scientists, engineers, students and curious minds who are developing the new Biomakespace - an innovation space for biology and biological engineering. This will be located in the historic, original Laboratory of Molecular Biology building, supported by the University of Cambridge Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative and other local supporters. For more information see:
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Interdisciplinary iGEM teams in Cambridge
Cambridge, now in partnership with the John Innes Centre, has fielded teams of students from Biology, Engineering and the Physical Sciences in the international Genetically Engineered Machine competition since 2005. Find information about this Synthetic Biology competition and the teams here.
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The Cambridge University Synthetic Biology Society, CUSBS, is a new society aiming to spread the word of Synthetic Biology. Founded by the 2015 Cambridge-JIC iGEM team, they are a growing and enthusiastic team of undergraduates taking on practical bioengineering projects. See their website here.
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EUSynBioS: Society for Students and Postdocs in Synthetic Biology
The European Association of Students and Post-docs in Synthetic Biology (EUSynBioS) was founded as a student-led initiative in late 2014. Their goal is to shape and foster a community of young researchers active in the young scientific discipline of synthetic biology within Europe by providing a central resource for interaction and professional development. See the website at: