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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Cambridge Consultants sponsor the iGEM2016 team
Cambridge Consultants - 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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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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Teaching materials
Reference materials, including lecture notes, slides and PDF references can be found for courses on Plant Development and Synthetic Biology taught by Jim Haseloff at the University of Cambridge.
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2-way signalling and programming grids of bacteria
Grant PK, Dalchau N, Brown JR, Federici F, Rudge TJ, Yordanov B, Patange O, Phillips A, Haseloff J. Orthogonal intercellular signaling for programmed spatial behavior. Molecular Systems Biology 12:849-861, (2016). Click to download
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New fluorescent reporter gene for Marchantia chloroplasts
Boehm CR, Ueda M, Nishimura Y, Shikanai T, Haseloff J. A Cyan Fluorescent Reporter Expressed from the Chloroplast Genome of Marchantia polymorpha. Plant Cell Physiol. 57:291-9. (2016). Click to download
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Guidelines for naming Marchantia genes
Bowman JL, Araki T, Arteaga-Vazquez MA, Berger F, Dolan L, Haseloff J, Ishizaki K, Kyozuka J, Lin SS, Nagasaki H, Nakagami H, Nakajima K, Nakamura Y, Ohashi-Ito K, Sawa S, Shimamura M, Solano R, Tsukaya H, Ueda T, Watanabe Y, Yamato KT, Zachgo S, Kohchi T. The Naming of Names: Guidelines for Gene Nomenclature in Marchantia. Plant Cell Physiol. 57:257-61, (2016). Click to download
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Novel and robust technique for measurement of microbial promoter characteristics
Rudge T, Brown J, Federici F, Dalchau N, Phillips A, Ajioka J, & Haseloff J. Characterization of intrinsic properties of promoters. ACS Synthetic Biology 5:89-98. (2016). Click to download
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A common DNA syntax for assembly and exchange of PhytoBricks
Patron NJ, Orzaez D, Marillonnet S, Warzecha H, Matthewman C, Youles M, Raitskin O, Leveau A, Farré G, Rogers C, Smith A, Hibberd J, Webb AA, Locke J, Schornack S, Ajioka J, Baulcombe DC, Zipfel C, Kamoun S, Jones JD, Kuhn H, Robatzek S, Van Esse HP, Sanders D, Oldroyd G, Martin C, Field R, O'Connor S, Fox S, Wulff B, Miller B, Breakspear A, Radhakrishnan G, Delaux PM, Loqué D, Granell A, Tissier A, Shih P, Brutnell TP, Quick WP, Rischer H, Fraser PD, Aharoni A, Raines C, South PF, Ané JM, Hamberger BR, Langdale J, Stougaard J, Bouwmeester H, Udvardi M, Murray JA, Ntoukakis V, Schäfer P, Denby K, Edwards KJ, Osbourn A, Haseloff J. Standards for plant synthetic biology: a common syntax for exchange of DNA parts. New Phytologist 208:13-9. (2015). Click to download
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Spontaneous emergence of fractal patterns in bacterial populations
Rudge TJ*, Federici, F.*, Steiner PJ*, Kan A and Haseloff J. , ACS Synthetic Biology, 2:705–714, 2013 (* equal first authors). Populations of relatively simple bacterial cells can possess emergent properties due to purely physical interactions. The work validates a physico-genetic model for cell growth which is essential for the design and understanding of genetically programmed multicellular microbial systems. Click to download
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Computational modelling of synthetic microbial biofilms
Timothy J Rudge*, Paul J Steiner*, Andrew Phillips, and Jim Haseloff. ACS Synthetic Biology, 1:345-52, 2012. (* equal first authors). This paper presents a computational method for modelling synthetic microbial biofilms, which combines three-dimensional biophysical models of individual cells with models of genetic regulation and inter-cellular signaling. The method uses parallel GPU architectures for acceleration. Click to download
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Synthetic Biology: opportunities for Chilean bioindustry and education
Federici F, Rudge TJ, Pollak B, Haseloff J, Gutiérrez RA. Biological Research 46(4):383-93, 2013. Review: In an age of pressing challenges for sustainable production of energy and food, the new field of Synthetic Biology has emerged as a promising approach to engineer biological systems. Synthetic Biology is formulating the design principles to engineer affordable, scalable, predictable and robust functions in biological systems. Click to download
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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: