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Engineering Biology in Cambridge



Café Synthetique is the monthly meetup for the Cambridge synthetic and engineering biology community with informal talks, discussion and pub snacks.

We meet monthly at the Panton Arms to share the latest developments in engineering biology and related approaches and techniques. Speakers range from students and group leaders to industry professionals and entrepreneurs. We are always open to speaker suggestions so if you would like to nominate yourself or another person, please get in touch via The informal format of 1-2 short talks followed by discussion and an opportunity to network, all accompanied by tasty pub snacks and buy-your-own drinks.

Topics cover many areas at the intersection on biology and engineering (see some examples below), often pairing speakers from the University with local start-ups and biotech companies to provide a broad view from emerging research and technologies to real-world and commercial applications.


We are back on Monday 4 March, 6pm, Panton Arms, Cambridge

Sign up here on MEETUP.

Monday 4 March, 2 talks with Betty Chung (Dept. Pathology, Cambridge) and Sarah Guiziou (Earlham Institute, Norwich) 

"Plant Microbe Interactions"

Betty Chung

Title: The distinct translational landscapes of gram-negative Salmonella and gram-positive Listeria

Abstract: Translational control in pathogenic bacteria is fundamental to gene expression and affects virulence and other infection phenotypes. We used an enhanced ribosome profiling protocol coupled with parallel transcriptomics to capture accurately the global translatome of two evolutionarily distant pathogenic bacteria – the Gram-negative bacterium Salmonella and the Gram-positive bacterium Listeria. We find that the two bacteria use different mechanisms to translationally regulate protein synthesis. In Salmonella, in addition to the expected correlation between translational efficiency and cis-regulatory features such as Shine-Dalgarno (SD) strength and RNA secondary structure around the initiation codon, our data reveal an effect of the 2nd and 3rd codons, where the presence of tandem lysine codons (AAA-AAA) enhances translation in both Salmonella and E. coli. Strikingly, none of these features are seen in efficiently translated Listeria transcripts. Instead, approximately 20% of efficiently translated Listeria genes exhibit 70S footprints seven nt upstream of the authentic start codon, suggesting that these genes may be subject to a novel translational initiation mechanism. Our results show that SD strength is not a direct hallmark of translational efficiency in all bacteria. Instead, Listeria has evolved additional mechanisms to control gene expression level that are distinct from those utilised by Salmonella and E. coli.


My research focuses on the dynamics of post-transcriptional control of gene expression. After my undergraduate studies in Biochemistry at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand I pursued a PhD in Biochemistry at University College Cork, Ireland where I focused on elucidating non-canonical gene expression mechanisms in RNA viruses.

Following my studies on unusual protein synthesis mechanisms, and supported by both the Long-Term EMBO and Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowships, I joined the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, where I worked on deciphering the regulation of protein synthesis in plants, making use of the unicellular green algae Chlamydomonas to reveal the ancestral mechanism of miRNA-mediated translational regulation. Through a Medical Research Council Career Development Fellowship, I established my research group in the Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge, where my group aims to understand how living organisms utilise novel protein synthesis regulatory mechanisms to counteract external stresses, especially during host:pathogen interaction and in response to temperature fluctuation.

Sarah Guiziou

Title: Integrases to record gene expression during plant development. 

Abstract: To gain a deeper understanding of and engineer plants, the development of synthetic circuits with memory is essential as it allows the recording and recoding of in vivo signalling networks. To engineer synthetic circuits with memory, we transferred to the plant model A. thaliana the serine-integrase-based technology allowing site-specific and irreversible DNA recombination visualized by switching between fluorescent reporters. When combined with promoters expressed during lateral root initiation, integrases amplify the reporter signal and permanently mark all descendants. Using this integrase toolbox, we are building history-dependent circuits in A. thaliana to record the order of expression of key genes during plant development: lateral root and stomata development.

Bio: I am a Career Development Fellow at the Earlham Institute, Norwich. I did my Ph.D. on the engineering of integrase-based logic circuits in E. coli under the supervision of Dr. Jerome Bonnet at the University of Montpellier. Aiming to apply this technology to the understanding of the development of multicellular organisms, I moved to the lab of Prof. Jennifer Nemhauser, at UW, Seattle, where I developed integrase tools to record gene expression during plant development. I recently moved to the UK, and my current research project is to use integrase-based technology to elucidate and engineer plant development and plant microbiota interactions.


It would be great to see the community coming together again with free aromi food available! Drinks available to purchase at the bar. We look forward to seeing you at the Panton Arms, Cambridge.  Places are limited to 35. Please rsvp sign up here. Any problems signing up email


Previously Kindly Sponsored by Cambridge Consultants


Future Dates:

  • Monday 8 April with Graham Christie, Dept of Chemical Eng & BioTech
  • Monday 13 May tbc
  • Monday 3 June
  • Monday 1 July


Past Meetings

  • Monday 5 February with David Fernandez-Antoran and Salavat Magazov "Cutting-Edge Cell Culture"
  • Monday 15 January with Lara Allen, iTeams and Kavi Shah, IGEM/Synbio Society
  • Monday 4 December with Hadrien Peyret, John Innes Centre, Norwich and Jarrod Shilts, Expression Edits.
  • Monday 6 November with Daniela Lobo, Senior Scientist, Cambridge Display Technology Ltd.
  • Monday 2 October- Dr Diana Fusco, Assitant Professor, Dept of Physics 'Crispr-trapping bacteriophages to shine the light on phage-bacteria interactions at single-cell resolution'
  • Monday 4 September with Dr Alex Borodavka, Biochemistry'Viruses: Elegance in Their Simplicity, or Simply Bad News Wrapped in Protein?'
  • Monday 5 June, 6pm-8pm.  Dr Kirsty MacLellan-Gibson from Brabaham Instiutute
  • 3rd April - Lorenzo Di Michele, Asst. Professor in Biotechnology, Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. "Building synthetic cells with DNA (just not how you would expect)"

Full Archive of past meetings available here