Synthetic biology has reached the same inflection point achieved by computer science in the 1950's

The foundational pieces emerging, in the form of standardized DNA parts, packaged for combinatoric assembly using standards such as BioBricks.


  • Creating new DNA parts is tedious and time-consuming
  • Constructing systems from sets of DNA parts is an ad hoc, manual process that limits the size, complexity, and capability of the resulting systems.

The time is right for automation of biological design.

We work at the intersection of synthetic biology and computer science. We have introduced and pursued a vision of a toolchain that stretches from high-level languages to cellular implantation of genetic circuits. We have developed tools for high-level design and data representation. Our efforts have also focused on the reproducibility of results, improving device libraries, and high-precision prediction.

We apply lessons learned and techniques from computer science and artificial intelligence to synthetic biology. Engineering practices such as libraries of parts, modularization, standards and interfaces, computer aided design, and AI techniques can advance the capabilities of synthetic biology.

  • built the first end-to-end toolchain for synthetic biology design automation including the BioCompiler that outperforms human designers.
  • active participant in the Synthetic Biology Open Language (SBOL) that serves as a hub for linking many different synthetic biology resources.
  • led the iGEM interlab study that examines characterization and reproducibility of results across hundreds of laboratories.
  • developed a calibrated flow cytometry method to measure, compare, and combine biological circuit components which enabled RTX BBN Technologies' high-precision quantitative prediction software more accurately.

Our research spans the boundary between academia and industry and between data-driven/AI methods and wet-lab investigations.

Areas of work include:

  • Calibrated measurement and characterization of genetic devices
  • Engineering of high-performance genetic regulation devices
  • Representation and sharing of designs, protocols, and data
  • Sequence-based detection of pathogens, toxins, and signs of engineering
  • Modeling and manipulating the 3D growth and differentiation of cells
  • Applied capabilities of multi-organism communities
  • Advanced biological detection methods

Synthetic Biology is important for diverse applications


  • new medical diagnostics and therapies,
  • environmental remediation and sensing, and
  • chemical production or detection
  • Identify Bacteria Before They Cause Harm
  • Know What’s Natural, What’s Not
Safely Detect Explosives

Under DARPA’s Bio Reporters for Subterranean Surveillance program we are exploring a method to use naturally-occurring fungus to detect buried TNT. By using natural soil fungal webs to propagate engineered bacteria underground and send signals back up to the surface, we plan to create a warning system that glows under ultra-violet light to indicate the presence of buried TNT.

Identify Bacteria Before They Cause Harm Know What’s Natural, What’s Not

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