Synthetic biology lab

Duration: 1 year full-time
Start date: October 2017
LocationSouth Kensington
ECTS: 90 credits

This course is now open to applications for 2017 entry.

This course provides students with a platform to overcome traditional barriers to work collaboratively on the ‘big problems’ and applications in synthetic and systems biology. 

About the course


The MRes programme at the Institute of Systems and Synthetic Biology is organised in association with the EPSRC National Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation (CSynBI) and the Centre for Integrative Systems Biology and Bioinformatics (CISBIO).

The course provides graduate students from life sciences, engineering and physical sciences with a platform to overcome traditional barriers to work collaboratively on the ‘big problems’ and applications in synthetic and systems biology. Students gain intensive hands-on experience in a combination of experimental biology and modelling in order to understand, predict and redesign biological pathways. There is a link with the BIOS Centre at King’s College to facilitate the integration of this research with emerging ethical, legal and societal issues.

The taught elements of the course include introductory modules that cover essentials for both life and physical scientists, as well as modules on experimental systems biology, theoretical systems biology, synthetic biology, and advanced technologies. In addition to conventional lectures, the course requires active engagement by students through practicals, bench work, case studies, proposal writing, journal clubs, and an eight-month interdisciplinary research project. Only these activities will be marked; there will not be any formal written exams.

For further enrichment of the programme, close connections to industry and medicine will be provided through research projects from corresponding members of the Institute, as well as additional courses and workshops.


Modules shown are for the current academic year, and are subject to change depending on your year of entry.

The programme is only offered as a full-time, one-year course and leads to the MRes degree. Students begin their lecture programme with compulsory core modules and practicals in the first term (October–December).

In January you will choose a topic for the eight-month long multidisciplinary, theoretical or experimental research project, supervised by at least two supervisors with different expertise. One supervisor may also come from industry.

During January students write a research proposal (6 pages) on their chosen research project, evaluated by a student mock panel for early feedback prior to submission to supervisors. During terms 2 (January-March) and 3 (April-June), a mini-conference will be offered.


1a. Introductory modules – Essentials for Life Scientists

This short lecture module introduces the basics of modelling and theoretical analysis, tailored towards students from the life sciences with limited theoretical background. In particular, lectures will cover differential equations and stochastic simulations.

Computer practical - the programming package Matlab will be introduced. Students will learn how to read data files, analyse data, fit models to data, plot graphs, print to output files, and how to implement simple dynamical models.

1b. Introductory modules – Essentials for Physical Scientists

This short lecture/tutorial module will provide an introduction to life sciences, tailored towards students from the physical sciences. Lectures will discuss aspects of molecular biology and information flow within a biological context (DNA, RNA, proteins, transcription and translation). An overview of some experimental techniques (cloning, PCR) will be provided.

In addition to the basic introduction to biology, some insight will be provided into up-to-date DNA assembly methods which have applications in synthetic biology and will be of interest to students with life science backgrounds.

Hands-on experience in basic experimental techniques will be provided. The practical will explore new techniques in DNA assembly.

Module 2 – Experimental Systems Biology

Lectures will cover signalling and gene regulatory pathways and programmes in bacteria, mammalian cells and plants. Further topics of the lectures will include structural and functional genomics, molecular medicine and experimental techniques. 

Module 3 – Theoretical Systems Biology

This lecture module will cover various modelling techniques, including dynamical systems, networks, deterministic differential equations, stochastic simulations, control theory, biophysics and cell mechanics, as well as statistical approaches such as Bayesian inference.

Module 4 – Synthetic Biology

Topics range from biological building blocks and their characterization as, e.g. input/output relations, filters, amplifiers, robustness, as well as control theory, metabolic flux analysis, and genetic engineering. Additionally, this module will address social, ethical and policy issues, such as how is science linked to society, biology in the political context, social challenges, governance and regulation.

Module 5 – Advanced Technology

This short lecture module will cover imaging and high-throughput technologies. Imaging techniques include various forms of fluorescence microscopy, and high-throughput techniques include RNAi screens, microarrays, and microfluidic devices.

Teaching and assessment


  • Computer-based work
  • Formal presentations
  • Group work exercises
  • Individual research project and dissertation (9 months), with optional placement
  • Laboratory
  • Lectures
  • Online lecture materials
  • Online lecture recordings
  • Practical classes
  • Seminars
  • Tutorials
  • Workshops


  • Coursework
  • Dissertation
  • Essays
  • Individual research project report
  • Presentations
  • Viva

Entry requirements

Minimum academic requirement

2.1 Honours degree in a physical, engineering, mathematical, or life/biomedical sciences-based subject.

A-level mathematics also normally required.

International qualifications

The academic requirement above is for applicants who hold or who are working towards a UK qualification.

We also accept a wide variety of international qualifications. For guidance see our Country Index though please note that the standards listed here are the minimum for entry to the College.

If you have any questions about admissions and the standard required for the qualification you hold or are currently studying for then please contact the relevant admissions team.

English language Requirements

All candidates must demonstrate a minimum level of English language proficiency for admission to the College.

For admission to this course, you must achieve the standard College requirement in the appropriate English language qualification.

For details of the minimum grades required to achieve this requirement, please see the English language requirements for postgraduate applicants.

Fees and funding

Home and EU students

2017 entry:


Islands and overseas students

2017 entry:


Government funding

The level of tuition fees you pay is based on your fee status, which we assess based on UK government legislation.

If you are a Home or EU student who meets certain criteria, you can apply for a Postgraduate Master’s Loan of up to £10,000 from the UK government for programmes beginning in October 2016. The loan is not means-tested, and you can choose whether to put it towards your tuition fees or living costs. 

Funding from Imperial


We offer a range of scholarships for postgraduate students to support you through your studies. Try our scholarships search tool to see what you might be eligible for.

For more information on the Postgraduate Master's Loan scheme and other funding opportunities that are available, please visit our Fees and Funding website.

How to apply

All applicants must apply online.

For full details on the online application process, or to start your application, please visit the How to Apply section of our website.

You can usually apply for up to two courses, although your second choice will only be considered if your first-choice application is unsuccessful.

Most of our postgraduate courses don't have a formal closing date, but popular courses close when they are full. We therefore recommend applying early to avoid disappointment, especially students who will also be applying for funding or applying for a visa.

You will need to upload documents with your applications, which may include transcripts and degree certificates.

Offer holders will need to pay a deposit to secure your place. This will be deducted from the balance of your tuition fees.

ATAS Certificate

An ATAS certificate is required for overseas students applying for this course. Your Tier 4 visa application, or extension of stay, will automatically be refused if you need an ATAS certificate and cannot provide one.

For further guidance on obtaining an ATAS certificate please see the information on our International Student Support team website.