Plenary Event 2: Synthetic Biology

5/6 September 2013

Vanbrugh College, York University

Synthetic biology presents us with a plethora of fundamental challenges that take us to the heart of understanding what Life is. One approach to synthetic biology is the explore the way in which genomes can be altered, to change and to shape biological function - to take a living organism and explore how it works by re-engineering what it does. The problem can also be approached from the bottom up: what is the minimal basis set required to construct something that behaves like a living organism? If we were to design a cell from scratch what might it be like? At the most basic level, how do we design functional molecules ab initio, rather than simply depending upon evolutionary development? Molecules must be assembled into systems if we are to build something that mimics life; in the cell the membrane plays a critical role in determining function and in the membrane, many components assemble to form functional systems. Speakers at this meeting will address the global challenge presented by synthetic biology, the design of synthetic biological molecules, their assembly into systems, energy and work in membranes, signalling and the design of protocells.

Who should attend?

We invite particiption by academic staff from physical and life science departments in the UK who are interested in the central goal of the Network. We are particularly keen to encourage participation by clinicians and industrial scientists, to foster the development of relationships with end-users of the research.


Our Focussed Workshops will provide a mechanism to nucleate new collaborative partnerships that wil lead to outstanding science and the award of grants by research councils. One of the central goals of the Plenary Events will be to prepare the ground for those Workshops and to help us build a programme for understanding the physics of life. Discussion sessions will be a very important element of the events, and it is hoped that all attendees will come ready to engage fully in that element of the programme.


Ab initio design from molecules to systems
Day 1
12:30 lunch
1:30 Introduction
Session 1: Synthetic Cell Biology
13:45 – 14:25 Jim Haseloff (University of Cambridge): “Synthetic Biology and the Challenge of Engineering Physico-Genetic Cellular Systems”
14:25 – 15:05 Steve Mann (University of Bristol): "Towards Synthetic Cellularity via Protocell Design and Construction"
15:05 – 15:30 Discussion
15:30 – 15:50 Coffee
15:50 – 16:50 Breakout 1
16:50 – 17:10 Report back
Session 2: Synthetic Proteins
17:10 – 17:50 Les Dutton (University of Pannsylvania):“First Principles Design and Engineering of Oxidoreductases”
18:30 – 20:00 Dinner
Session 3: Organization
20:00 Marileem Dogterom (AMOLF, Amsterdam): “A Simple Synthetic Design for Cell Polarization”
Day 2
Session 4: Energy and Work
09:00 – 09:40 Neil Hunter (University of Sheffield): photosynthesis
09:40 – 10:20 Judy Armitage (University of Oxford): wiring chemotaxis
10:20 – 10:45 Discussion
10:45 – 11:00 Coffee
11:00 – 12:00 Breakout 2
12:00 – 12:15 Report back
Session 5: Towards a theory of synthetic biology
12:15 – 13:00 Talk 7 Ramin Golestanian (University of Oxford): "Synthetic "Living" Matter: The Challenge of Engineering Emergence"
13:00 Lunch and Close


Register for this event. The full registration fee(which is subsidised by the Network) includes lunch on both days and dinner, bed and breakfast for the night of September 5.


The meeting will take place at Vanbrugh College, University of York, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD. A map and directions to the college are available on its website at




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