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BioBuilder for Students

What would you build with biology if you could build anything? A plant that can detect carbon monoxide? A fish that can clean up oil spills? With BioBuilder, you can explore the vast opportunities that exist in the worlds of biology and engineering. And while some ideas remain more fiction than science, it’s possible to explore them in different ways with our curriculum, in afterschool clubs, and through local apprenticeships.

What is Synthetic Biology?

Synthetic biology combines the facts we’ve learned in biology textbooks with the tried and true principles of engineering so we can make and model useful living systems. The best-case scenario: we make novel systems that work reliably and address important world problems. The worst case: the systems we build fail the first time, and the second, and the third – possibly in surprising or dangerous ways. At this early stage, both the successes and the failures teach us a great deal, and while we still have a long way to go before it’s easy to genetically program cells to perform particular tasks, we learn by trying and ultimately advance everyone’s understanding in this emerging field.

What you will find here

Each of the activities you’ll find here focus on a different, but related, aspect of biology and engineering


Eau That Smell

In this lab, normally stinky smelling bacteria are made to smell sweet, like bananas. You can learn to grow microbial cells, measure their growth, analyze their genes on a molecular level, and learn basic synthetic biology concepts related to system design and logic gates.


iTune Device

This lab focuses on predictable design. You can learn to assess the strength of genetic “parts,” such as promoters and ribosome binding sites, to see how they influence the output of a genetic device.


Picture This

Modeling and design of a genetic circuit is presented through three activities. You’ll learn how a two component sensing system can be modeled and then re-engineered to produce bacterial photographs.


What a Colorful World

In this lab, two cell types are transformed with two color-generating plasmids, a process that is fundamental to genetics and inheritance lessons, molecular biology, and research examining DNA and gene expression.


Bioethics Essay

Synthetic biology has only recently emerged as an engineering discipline. Students are asked to weigh in on the question: Do the potential contributions to society warrant the potential risks inherent in synthetic biology?


Biology By Design

Combining your understanding of science, some engineering know-how and lots of imagination, you will propose a design for a genetic system that could make a significant contribution to life on earth.


Golden Bread

With this lab you can explore the science, engineering, and bioethics of a yeast that’s genetically modified to make a vitamin-enriched food. Explore how the cell’s “break,” how to fix them, and what they might do in locations where Vitamin A-deficiency affects public health.

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