UCB 190/290, MIT 6.971/20.949
Principles of Synthetic Biology
A Bi-Coastal Course
Adam Arkin, Department of Bioengineering, U.C. Berkeley
Ron Weiss, Department of Bioengineering, M.I.T.
Course Number: UCB Bio Eng 190/290, MIT 6.971 / 20.949
Course Title: Principles of Synthetic Biology
Instructors: Adam Arkin (UC Berkeley) and Ron Weiss (MIT)
Offered: Fall, 8-9:30 AM TTh, 177 Stanley Hall (Berkeley)
TA: Alistair Boettiger (Berkeley)
Notes: Rachel Bernstein (Berkeley)
Units: 3 hours of lecture and 1 hour discussion = 4 units
Estimated total number of hours of student work per week: 12 Hours
Course Format: The course will be taught with two 1.5 hours of lecture per week and 1 hour of
Prerequisites: Math 53/54, MCB 100A/ChemC130, or consent of instructor
Grading: Letter, Pass/No Pass, S/U (grad courses only), breakdown grading %
Final Project 50%
Final Project: The final project will be in the form of a final design and analysis project for a
sophisticated synthetic biological circuit.
Brief Course Description for catalog: (one paragraph) The field of synthetic biology is
quickly emerging as potentially one of the most important and profound ways by which we can
understand and manipulate our physical world for desired purposes. While synthetic biology
builds upon existing areas, such as genetic engineering, systems biology, and non-biological
fields such as computer science, it is becoming evident that synthetic biology represents its own
new engineering discipline. At the heart of Synthetic Biology is the aim to make the engineering
of new biological function predictable, safe, and quick and to aid in creating biological
applications of benefit to society. In this course the field and its natural scientific and engineering
basis are introduced. Relevant topics in cellular and molecular biology and biophysics, dynamical
and engineering systems, and design and operation of natural and synthetic circuits are covered in
a concise manner that than allows the student to begin to design new biology-based systems.
(1) To introduce the basics of Synthetic Biology, including quantitative cellular network
characterization and modeling, (2) to introduce the principles of discovery and genetic factoring
of useful cellular activities into reusable functions for design, (3) to inculcate the principles of
biomolecular system design and diagnosis of designed systems, and (4) to illustrate cutting-edge
applications in Synthetic Biology and to enhance skull sin analyzing and designing synthetic
Desired Course Outcomes: The goals of this course are to enable students to: (1) design simple
cellular circuitry to meet engineering specification using both rational/model-based and librarybased
approaches, (2) design experiments to characterize and diagnose operation of natural and
synthetic biomolecular network functions, and (3) understand scientific, safety and ethical issues
of synthetic biology.
Lecture videos: Available at 
Room Share: If you plan on Room Sharing (teaching the same lecture to ugrads and grads you
need to add the following:
Room Share & Graduate Content: BioE 190 & BioE 290 will share the same lectures.
However for the graduate version, students will be required to solve extra homework
problems and prepare and present a more final project that must include a detailed
analysis of the projected scientific and social impact for their product and a detailed plan
for reduction to practice using biological parts from standard registries or other sources of
synthetic biologically designed subsystems as much as possible. Undergraduates will
prepare a final project that does not require detailed relevance and reduction to practice.
Course Textbooks: Class notes will be provided based on a textbook being developed by the
instructors. Scientific papers will also be required reading.
Principles of Synthetic Biology
Vol 1, Issue 1, Dec 10 2010
Student final papers from the course were assembled into the first online “Principles of
Synthetic Biology” magazine.